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The Bad News About the Energy Bill

Energy policy is an important issue for America and one which my Wisconsin constituents take very seriously. Crafting an energy policy requires us to address important questions about, for example, the role of domestic production of energy resources versus foreign imports, the importance of ensuring adequate energy supplies while protecting the environment, the necessity for domestic efforts to support improvements in our energy efficiency, and the wisest use of our energy resources. Given the need for a sound national energy policy, a vote on an energy bill is a very serious matter and I do not take a decision to oppose such a bill lightly. In my view, however, the conference report we consider today does not achieve the correct balance on several important issues, which is why I will oppose it.

I have four fundamental concerns:

* This bill digs us deeper into a budget black hole;

* it fails to decrease our dependence on foreign oil;

* it rolls back important consumer protections;

* and, finally, it undermines some of the fundamental environmental laws that our citizens rely upon.

First, the costs of this conference report are staggering. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that enactment will increase direct spending by $2.2 billion between 2006 and 2010 and by $1.6 billion between 2006 and 2015. Additionally, the CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation estimate that this bill will reduce revenues by $7.9 billion between 2005 and 2010 and by $12.3 billion from 2005-2015. Plus, on top of the direct spending, the conference report authorizes more than $66 billion in federal spending, according to the watchdog groups National Taxpayers Union, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and Citizens Against Government Waste. Our nation’s budget position has deteriorated significantly over the past few years, in large part because of the massive tax cuts that were enacted, and we now face years of projected budget deficits. The only way we will climb out of this deficit hole is to return to the fiscally responsible policies that helped put our nation on a sound fiscal footing in the 1990s, and that means making sure the bills we pass are paid for. To do otherwise is to simply dig our deficit hole even deeper, thus adding to the massive debt already facing our children and grandchildren.

Second, the conference report we consider today will do nothing to reduce US dependence on foreign oil. I cannot return to my home state of Wisconsin this weekend and say that I participated in a rushed effort to accept a 1,700-plus page conference report that won’t do a thing to increase our oil independence. The conference did not accept the 10% renewable portfolio standard passed by the Senate nor did it accept an amendment instructing the president to develop a plan to reduce U.S. oil dependence by 1 million barrels per day by 2015. I supported efforts to reduce our dependence on foreign oil when the Senate debated its bill, and I am extremely disappointed that the conference committee could not accept a reduction of 1 million barrels per day through 2015.

Third, the bill rolls back important consumer protections. The conference committee retained repeal of the pro-consumer Public Utility Holding Company Act ­ important New Deal-era legislation which protects electricity consumers. My state of Wisconsin is acutely interested in and concerned about the repeal of PUHCA and about ongoing abuses involving the unregulated corporate affiliates of regulated utilities. In addition to hearing from Wisconsinites, I have heard from contractors and other small businesses across the nation that have been harmed by unfair competition by affiliates of public utilities. I must say that I don’t understand how we can give the nuclear industry loan guarantees and over $2 billion in risk insurance but we can’t even give small businesses the assurance that unregulated affiliates of public utilities won’t unfairly out-compete them. I do, however, recognize the efforts of the Chairman and Ranking Member to protect language providing the federal government more oversight of utility mergers, which I very much support, and am grateful for their willingness to further look into my concerns on unfair competition by public utility affiliates.

Finally, the energy conference report includes provisions that significantly weaken our commitment to the environment and to the health of U.S. citizens. Section 328 of the energy conference report weakens the Clean Water Act by exempting certain oil and gas industry activities from compliance with both Phase I and Phase II Stormwater Programs ­ and in the process, rolls back 15 years of protection. This is not an insignificant issue: storm water runoff is a leading cause of impairment to our streams, rivers, and lakes. The bill also exempts hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act and by doing so, risks contaminating drinking water supplies. Over 95% of Wisconsin’s communities and about 75% of Wisconsin residents rely on groundwater for their supply of drinking water. Nationally, approximately half of the U.S. population obtains its drinking water from underground water sources, according to the Government Accountability Office. Wisconsin citizens, and all U.S. citizens, deserve more than provisions that could threaten the water they drink.

According to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office, the energy bill conference report includes direct spending of more than $2.2 billion over the 2006-2010 period, exceeding the amount allocated by the budget resolution.

Russ Feingold is a US senator from Wisconsin. These remarks were delivered on the floor of the senate on July 29, 2005.

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Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees.

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