The Anti-Consumer Energy Bill

The Anti-Consumer Energy Bill

Lieberman Op-Ed in The Tampa Tribune
September 22, 2002

Editorial reprinted with permission from The Tampa Tribune.



Something strange happened to the energy bill during its long journey through Congress.  Its authors forgot that the main purpose was to ensure affordable energy for American consumers.  Instead, the bill is likely to increase the cost of energy in the years to come.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


Skyrocketing summer gasoline prices, rolling blackouts and higher electricity bills in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />California, and other energy-related problems in 2000 and 2001 jolted Washington into action on energy.  President Bush’s energy plan, released in May of 2001, was largely adopted by the Republican-led House of Representatives the following August.  The Senate version of the energy bill, which differs in several respects from the House version, was passed in April 2002.   A House-Senate conference committee is currently reconciling these differences and may soon present a final bill for the President to sign.


Along the way, the voice of consumers was drowned out by special interests, particularly opportunistic businesses and environmental activists.  Consequently, the energy bill delivers little to fix the problems it set out to solve, but much to make them worse.


Nowhere is this more clear than in the energy bill’s response to high gasoline prices.  The Senate version contains a number of motor fuel provisions, most significantly an ethanol mandate.  If enacted, the law will require that minimum amounts of costly renewable fuels, mostly ethanol derived from Midwestern corn, be added to the nation’s gasoline supply.  Though a potential boon to corn farmers and big ethanol producers like Illinois-based Archer Daniels Midland (as well as the Midwestern legislators behind the mandate), this provision can only increase the costs at the pumps.  In fact, the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that the energy bill will add 4 to 10 cents to the price per gallon of gas.


The bill’s electricity title is no less counterproductive.   Rather than reduce the costly federal red tape affecting electricity markets, the Senate added more of the same in the form of a renewable portfolio standard.  Under it, 10 percent of electricity will have to be generated by so-called renewable sources, chiefly wind and solar energy.  As with ethanol, these alternative energy sources need this special treatment from Washington precisely because they cannot compete on the basis of price.  Alternative energy companies and their environmentalist allies may be thrilled with this provision, but it will boost electricity bills for everyone else.


There are a few good ideas in the energy bill, but they have been overshadowed by pork, the cost of which will be paid by us all.   After a year and a half of effort on the energy bill, the end result is worse than nothing at all.


What a waste of energy.