Energy spring in Washington?

The new Democrats majority in the US Congress has Europe speculating about a possible American U-turn on energy and climate-change policy. Is the US preparing for its own ‘energy revolution’?

One week after the EU presented a comprehensive set of potential measures to deal with the twin crisis of climate change and energy security (see EURACTIV 11 January 2007), all eyes are on Washington, where two events have raised expectations that the United States might be ready for a big change in its energy policy.

This week (18 January), the Democrats will try to have the House adopt a new Energy Security Bill as part of their “100-hour sprint” (a series of legislative initiatives which they want to pass in the first 100 hours of their new majority in the House). The new energy bill revokes tax breaks for oil and gas production and wants big oil companies to renegotiate their leases for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. It also introduces a “Strategic Energy Efficiency and Renewables Reserve” to stimulate development and use of alternative fuels and energy saving measures.

Next week (on 23 January), US President George W. Bush will use its annual speech to congress to announce new measures in the fight against climate change, but his office already denied speculations in the European press that the President will make a U-turn on mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions. Mr Bush is likely to announce more money for ethanol production.

But even the progressive Washington Post  as well as the International Herald Tribune  questions America’s “energy spring”. “The main problem with the House bill is that hitting up oil companies is a poor substitute for a real energy policy,” states the Post and the Herald Tribune agrees: “Right now, House Democrats are fixated on eliminating unnecessary tax breaks and closing loopholes that favour the oil and gas industry. Fair enough, but that’s not an energy policy. The House has been notoriously unenlightened on energy issues, and Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, has some heavy educating to do to make her colleagues full partners in this essential national enterprise.”

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