The conference committee working since September 5 to mesh the disparate House and Senate bills known as the Energy Policy Act of 2003 now expects to complete its work sometime today and lug this lard bag
over to Congress for a vote in both houses by Monday.
Two weeks ago, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici warned that no bill might be ready for the President’s signature this year. That would have been a good thing for reasons I noted in Energy Plan, No Visionaries, Please, - Part I
and Part II
. Though distracted by its need to twist arms on the Iraq reconstruction funding, the White House apparently found time to exert some additional pressure on the energy conferees as well.
While the policy act has several likable provisions, the overall package reeks of added pollution and another gigantic giveaway to the usual suspects.
As has been the case from the time Dick Cheney met secretly in 2001 to shape the nation’s energy future with the help of industry honchos like Enron’s Ken Lay, Democrats have been unwelcome outsiders in the process. Indeed, even as the final language was being frantically hammered out Saturday, the Democratic members of the House and Senate energy committees weren’t being told much. Democratic committee members will be seeing some of the reworked legislation – and possibly some completely new provisions – for the first time less than 24 hours before the final congressional vote This squeezing out of Democratic input – and not just in energy – grates so much that the party leadership finally is making a stink
One thing the Democrats were
being told Saturday is that drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is almost certainly off the table. And so is the call for taking an inventory of outer continental shelf oil and gas resources. Republicans will surely make a big deal out of these supposed concessions. After all, Bush pushed this hard when the plan was first introduced in 2001. However, they’re conceding nothing. They didn’t have enough votes. Opening ANWR to drilling and pumping would have been a deal breaker in the Senate, and requiring the OCS inventory would have creamed the House bill. Environmental advocates have a victory to cheer.
But, as the National Academy of Sciences noted in its Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activities on Alaska's North Slope
, ANWR is not the only concern in the region.
A month ago, DOI's Minerals Management Service put 9.4 million acres in Alaska's Beaufort Sea on the block at very low royalty fees. This Arctic region is near ANWR, and home to bowhead whales, polar bears, seals and Inupiat peoples still dependent on sea hunts. As Amanda Griscom points out in Grist
magazine, within a few days energy companies bought up 75,000 acres of the best offshore drilling plots.
Experts say the Beaufort Sea might contain as much as 12 billion barrels of recoverable oil (or as little as 4 b/bbl), at best, 21 months worth of U.S. consumption at the current rate. But conditions are tough, and it won’t be cheap – economically or environmentally - to get whatever is there out of the ground.
Eleanor Huffines, Alaska regional director for the Wilderness Society, is no diehard.The Society has selected areas in Prudhoe Bay and western Alaska where it is not opposing additional drilling. In a refrain familiar to everyone who has worked on just about any issue with the White House, Huffines says: "What concerns me is that no matter how reasonable we try to be in balancing commercial and environmental concerns, [the Bush administration's] plans show no balance at all—no regard for the seven areas scientists have identified as biological hotspots, no respect for wildlife habitat, native traditions, water quality, or any non-commercial values."
Once we find out what’s in the final bill, there’ll be more to discuss. Meanwhile, take a look at some interesting alternatives to this monstrosity at the American Council on an Energy Efficient Economy
, the New Energy Policy Initiative
, the Natural Resources Defense Council
and the Apollo Alliance