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Public Statements

Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004-Conference Report

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, for our national security, for our economic future, for the health of our environment, our country needs an effective, comprehensive national energy policy. We must free ourselves from dependence on foreign sources of energy. We must leave behind costly, inefficient energy practices and invest in cutting-edge technologies that will keep our economy the most productive in the world. And we must protect and heal the natural environment that we will leave to our children and grandchildren.

The legislation before us fails to meet those needs. When I, and 83 other Senators, voted for the Energy Policy Act on July 31, it was very a different piece of legislation. Unfortunately, the bill has been drastically changed since then. Without sufficient discussion and input from our side of the aisle, unacceptable parts were added to this legislation and crucial parts were taken away. We have been left with a bloated symbol of lost opportunity. I cannot support it.

This is not a trivial matter. This bill would set our energy policy for the next 10 years; we must get it right. Consider how things have changed since we last enacted an energy policy in 1992 and what new challenges we will face in the next 10 years.

Cracks in our energy policy, both in infrastructure and regulation, have become evident in the last few years. They have been most clearly shown during the Enron scandal and the August blackout in the Northeast and Midwest. These were clear signals of serious problems in the current system. Sixty million people were affected by the blackout, and it cost New York City alone $1 billion. This should have been a call to action, but it was not. This bill fails to address the weaknesses in our electrical grid that were exposed over the summer.

The Federal Energy Regulation Commission is prohibited in this bill, until 2007, from reforming the national power grid through mandating Regional Transmission Organizations, which would be necessary to ensure that further blackouts don't occur. This legislation also requires those who want to construct a Regional Transmission Organization to foot the full bill themselves, basically guaranteeing that it won't happen. I have received complaints from the Public Service Commission in Delaware on this very provision.

As our colleagues from the West Coast have reminded us so forcefully, Enron-style energy market manipulation was a major force in undermining the energy system in that part of the country. But this bill does not close the loopholes, with cute names like "Fatboy" and "Get Shorty," that allowed Enron to inflate their profits, and that directly caused some of the disruptive and costly power shortages.

The bill also rescinds the Public Utility Holding Company Act without providing an adequate replacement. PUHCA has for decades protected energy customers from energy corporations, like Enron, who might undertake predatory actions or make risky acquisitions or mergers. The repeal of this legislation leaves consumers holding the bag if a power company loses money on a non-energy investment. They could just put it on their customers' electric bills.

Not only does this bill not address the problems of the past, it doesn't plan at all for the future. Our reliance on oil and gas today is inescapable, but the need to move toward something better is undeniable. We will invest billions of taxpayer dollars in this bill for a resource that can't possibly sustain us. Our dependence on oil ties us to internal politics of unstable countries around the world. It condemns us to unsustainable levels of pollution. It should not be a very radical idea to suggest that we need to shift the type of energy that we use in this country. We consume almost 25 percent of the world's daily production of oil, though we hold only 3 percent of the world's oil reserves. This is a deficit that we will pay for with lack of control over our own economy and security. We are bound to the price fixing of Middle East suppliers and unrest in South America and the states of the former Soviet Union, and we will continue to be unless we invest in alternate sources of energy and curb the rate at which we consume.

Unfortunately, this bill takes no major steps toward these goals. In fact, the conference refused to include renewable portfolio standards, supported by 52 Senators, which would have required utilities to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020.

To deal with our dependence on fossil fuels, we must address both supply and demand. But this bill fails to provide us with a sensible energy conservation program. It doesn't address the need to improve fuel efficiency in our cars and trucks. In that regard, we can now count China among the countries with more foresight than this legislation provides on the issue of automobile efficiency. And this bill simply dropped a measure, accepted 99 to 1 by the Senate, that would have instructed the President to reduce our daily oil consumption by a little more than 5 percent by 2013.

Instead of a forward-looking policy on energy, this bill has been turned into a vehicle to undermine our Nation's environmental laws to the benefit of fossil fuel producers. The bill spends $1.8 billion in taxpayer dollars for the purchase of conventional coal-burning technologies, which reduces future demand for "clean-coal." At the same time, subsidies to promote the cleanest coal technologies have been cut by 20 percent.

It rolls back provisions of the Clean Air Act, by allowing communities to bypass compliance deadlines on ozone attainment standards if they can prove that some of the pollution drifts into their area from upwind locations. Unfortunately, almost all communities with poor air quality can meet this test. The result is a significant weakening of the Clean Air Act and a slap in the face to cities, like Wilmington, DE, who have met clean air standards despite dealing with upwind pollution.

This is not only an environmental problem. Currently, 130 million Americans are living in areas that don't comply with the air quality standards, and non-compliance has been linked to an increased occurrence of respiratory problems. A group of health organizations including Physicians for Social Responsibility and the American Lung Association have estimated that this rollback would cause more than 385,000 asthma attacks and nearly 5,000 hospital admissions per year.

The Clean Water Act has likewise been weakened. Oil and gas drilling sites are exempted in this bill from run-off compliance, and hydraulic fracturing, an oil and gas recovery technique, has been completely removed from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

These are two major changes, but there are other assaults on the environment. For instance, royalties charged to oil and gas recovery units on public land were reduced; offshore oil drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf was authorized; and, a Senate-approved provision, authorizing research on global climate change, was eliminated. This bill prefers ignorance to understanding when it comes to the most important environmental issues that our planet faces today.

And, in perhaps the most transparent concession to special interests, this bill not only waives liability, retroactively to September 5, for those who have produced the toxic substance, MTBE, that is polluting our ground water supply, but it grants its manufacturers $2 billion in transition funds and doesn't ban the additive until 2014, a provision which can be easily waived by the President or any Governor. This leaves those affected communities with a $29 billion clean up tab.

But, that is not the only tab that this bill leaves with the American people. It leaves us to pay $25 billion, mostly in pork, almost half in backward-looking tax breaks to fossil fuel producers. That is simply too much to be spent on a bad idea. This is not a roadmap, a vision on the horizon, to guide us for the next decade.

This bill fails to give us the comprehensive energy policy our Nation needs in this new century. It does nothing to free us from our dangerous dependence on fossil fuels. It does not set a clear course toward cleaner, more efficient technologies. And it fails to protect our environment. In too many ways it has sacrificed the long-term interests that we all share for shortsighted special interests. We can, we must do better.

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