Amendments could cut energy bill's steam

U.S. Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., speaks during a June 6 news conference that called for new congressional actions to deal worldwide energy demand.

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Kai Ryssdal: The president said during his State of the Union back in January that he wants us to wean ourselves off foreign oil. What he didn't say was how tough it was gonna be, practically and politically.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are horse-trading their way toward a new energy bill. But Sarah Gardner reports now from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, in the Senate, some controversial amendments are threatening to derail the whole thing.


Sarah Gardner: Senators are voting on the easy stuff first. Like requiring the government to come up with an "oil savings" plan.

The hard stuff is still to come. Like whether to subsidize the controversial coal-to-liquids industry. Coal-state Democrats are pushing a $10 billion loan plan.

Industry spokesman Corey Henry says government assistance will jumpstart production and ultimately benefit taxpayers.

Corey Henry: Largely because they offer a very viable way for America to reduce its growing dependence on oil imported from unstable and unfriendly regimes.

But coal-to-liquids isn't exactly what some Democrats and many environmentalists consider green energy.

Marchant Wentworth is with the Union of Concerned Scientists:

Marchant Wentworth: It's a very expensive process, both environmentally and economically. It's one of the worst ways to produce gasoline there is.

Other divisive proposals include raising fuel efficiency standards for cars by 40 percent and a mandate to pump up ethanol production.

The powerful automobile lobby has objections to both. And when the energy bill gets to the House it will face a powerful chairman, John Dingell of Michigan. He outraged environmentalists last week by circulating legislation that would bar the EPA and the states from regulating vehicle emissions.

Political analyst Tom Mann says it's a sign of the fight to come.

Tom Mann: Individual members and groups of members certainly within the Democratic party are going to be resisting moving too far, too fast.

And that suggests, Mann says, that the energy bill that ultimately emerges will be much more modest in reach than many had hoped.

I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk covering sustainability news spots and features.

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