Do not rush proposed energy legislation

Charles Steele Contributor
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The August Congressional recess is quickly approaching, and Congressional leaders are in a madcap rush to pass an energy bill—any energy bill, it seems—before they head home to the districts.

The madcap rush is troubling, because in their haste to pass an energy bill before the August recess, energy prices will only soar.

Earlier this week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee sent six new energy bills to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for consideration on the floor. These bills include “language to boost nuclear and solar energy and increase the production and deployment of plug-in cars and trucks,” among others, Greenwire reported on Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Mark Udall (D-CO), and Tom Udall (D-NM) called for an aggressive renewable energy standard of 20 percent by 2020 and 25 percent by 2025, Ben German of The Hill reported. This renewable energy standard is much more aggressive than the 15 percent renewable energy standard that passed the Energy Committee.

These new bills will be added to the numerous bills that are already under consideration, including Senator Jeff Bingaman’s (D-NM) 15 percent renewable energy standard, Senator Amy Klobuchar’s (D-MN) 25 percent renewable energy standard, and of course, the many controversial carbon cap proposals. Senator Reid now has just one week to determine which bill(s) will go to the floor for a vote and then hold a debate and vote—talk about waiting until the last minute!

Between the recent crisis on the Gulf Coast and soaring energy prices throughout the recession, it’s clear that Congress does indeed need to determine an energy solution for our country. We must find a way to responsibly and efficiently utilize our multitude of resources, including both traditional resources and renewable resources, to create an affordable and reliable energy future. However, the rush to pass an energy bill, especially any of the proposals currently on the table, is deeply troubling.

First, the options that are currently on the table, such as carbon caps and renewable energy standards, will likely only result in higher energy bills at a time when many Americans continue to struggle to make ends meet. As I mentioned here last week, the Heritage Foundation recently produced a study analyzing the cost of a 15 percent renewable energy standard by 2020. They found that such a standard would raise electricity prices by 36 percent for the average household. In my work with minority families, I know that most Americans cannot afford such an astronomical increase.

What’s more troubling is that the bills introduced this week—like the more aggressive renewable energy standard—has not been analyzed and likely won’t be analyzed if Senator Reid fast tracks it to a vote before the August recess.

Since an energy bill could affect 100 percent of the economy, it would simply be irresponsible for Congress to pass any bill—much less an unexamined bill—so quickly without proper debate and analysis. The health care bill required weeks of debate and examination, yet health care only encompasses a small portion of the economy. Yet, some of the energy proposals would impact every part of the economy, from energy companies to small businesses to ordinary consumers.

It’s clear that the energy bill—whatever that includes—is not ready for primetime. Congress would be unwise to rush to pass such a massive and important piece of legislation in the week before the August recess.

On behalf of the Working People for Fair Energy, and energy consumers across America, I urge Congress to take the time to closely examine any energy proposal for its hidden cost and reliability impacts, instead of rushing to pass a bill so they can tell voters in the district they did so. I guarantee the majority of voters will not be happy with the increased energy costs that would result from a renewable energy standard and the other proposals.

Dr. Charles Steele Jr. founded Working People for Fair Energy, a non-profit organization devoted to fighting for energy laws that are fair and affordable to working people and low-income families. He has served in the Alabama state Senate, and re-elected three times before resigning to become president of the SCLC in November 2004. He has been inducted into the Martin Luther King, Jr. Board of Preachers of Morehouse College and the Tuscaloosa Civic Hall of Fame.