May 20, 2009

Wyden Unveils Energy Agenda to End U.S. Addiction to Foreign Oil

"It's time for Congress to stop picking winners and losers - ethanol alone isn't the answer."

Washington, D.C. - Offering a new direction for the U.S. Senate energy debate, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced a series of energy initiatives today aimed at reducing America's consumption of fossil fuels. The package of eight initiatives takes a market-based approach to green energy by focusing on ways to make alternative energy more competitive with fossil fuels while promoting energy efficiency and innovation in new sustainable energy technologies.

"This country can't break free from its dependence on Middle Eastern oil by just drilling for more oil and producing more corn-based ethanol. Any addict will tell you that you can't cure an addiction by simply moving to a new drug, and relying on ethanol to get America off oil is not going to do the job, " said Wyden. "It's time for Congress to develop an energy policy that - instead of picking winners and losers - rewards performance and promotes innovation."

Wyden proposals being introduced today:

America's Low-Carbon Fuel Standard Act of 2009: In order to create a national motor fuel standard targeted toward replacing significant amounts of conventional gasoline with lower-carbon domestic fuels, the legislation revises the existing renewable fuel standard, which currently favors ethanol, to create a technology neutral "low-carbon fuel" standard. Low-carbon fuel is defined as a renewable fuel that minimizes lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions. This would include electricity for plug-in cars or hydrogen for fuel cells. Wyden's legislation mandates the replacement of increasing percentages of petroleum-based motor fuel sold rather than simply requiring specific volumes of ethanol to be consumed and would establish a timeline by which low-carbon fuels would constitute more than 30 percent of U.S. transportation fuel by 2030, an amount equal to the level of U.S. imports from the OPEC oil cartel. Ethanol would still qualify as a low-carbon fuel, but would be complemented by, and compete with, other low-carbon alternatives.

Renewable Energy Alternative Production Act: To promote the use of clean, renewable energy sources throughout the economy, the bill would create new Federal tax incentives for the use of renewable energy in forms other than electricity production. Under existing law, there are Federal tax incentives for selling renewable energy when it is turned into electricity, but not when it is sold as gas to fire an industrial boiler, or steam to heat a building, or hydrogen to run a fuel-cell powered car. This legislation would create a new Federal renewable energy production tax credit for the sale of many types of energy derived from renewable energy sources, including methane, hydrogen, steam and heated and chilled water.

Renewable Energy Parity and Investment Remedy Act: In line with Senator Wyden's other initiatives to promote greater innovation in renewable fuels by establishing technology neutral incentives, this provision would establish parity for all renewable electric-generation technologies. Under current law, a number of renewable energy technologies such as biomass energy plants, wave and tidal energy, land-fill gas recovery and others receive a tax credit that is only half of the value of the Federal production tax credit amount otherwise available for renewable energy projects. This bill would allow all qualifying renewable energy technologies to receive the full credit amount, leveling the playing field for these technologies to compete in the marketplace and creating greater incentives to develop and utilize the full range of renewable energy technologies.

EnergySmart Transport Corridors Act of 2009: In order to reduce the amount of gasoline and diesel fuel used on U.S. highways and the resulting emission of greenhouse gases and other environmental pollutants, the bill empowers the U.S. Department of Transportation to work with states and the fuel and transportation industries to designate EnergySmart Corridors such as the I-5 corridor along the West Coast. The designation process would assist in standardizing anti-idling equipment for trucks, increasing the availability of alternative low-carbon motor fuels, coordinating highway weight limits and identifying future construction within the Interstate Highway System that will save energy and reduce pollution. Intermodal and non-highway passenger and freight transportation options will be included in the planning process.

Oil Independence, Limiting Subsidies, and Accelerating Vehicle Efficiency Act (OILSAVE): In order to increase demand for fuel efficient vehicles, Wyden's OILSAVE bill establishes a tax credit to make purchasing a new fuel-efficient vehicle affordable for more Americans. The technology-neutral tax credit will be based on the vehicle's overall fuel efficiency, with credits going to vehicles with at least 10 percent greater fuel economy than the national average for each Model Year. The credit amount, which starts at $900, increases by $100 for every additional mile-per-gallon in fuel efficiency up to $2,500. The legislation also increases the gas guzzler tax as well as penalties for non-compliance by vehicle manufacturers with the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. The legislation also includes an investment tax credit for equipment added to new or existing heavy trucks and other vehicles that can be verified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to save fuel such as anti-idle devices or aerodynamic fairings for truck cabs and trailers.

Re-Energize America Loan Program: In order to increase both the infrastructure and demand for alternative energy and reduce energy use, this legislation establishes a "zero-interest" revolving loan program for families and small and mid-sized businesses to install clean energy equipment and implement energy efficient and renewable energy projects. This $10 billion loan program would cover the residential, commercial, industrial and transportation sectors and is financed through the transfer of $1 billion dollars a year of federal energy royalties paid on the extraction of coal, gas and oil and renewable energy from federal land. The program would be administered by individual state government energy offices so that loan programs can be tailored to meet regional needs. It would also enable loan applicants to work with energy officials in their own state, instead of bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.

EnergyGrant Competitive Education Program Act of 2009: In order to promote innovative solutions to the nation's energy problems, the legislation would encourage colleges and universities to form regional energy research groups or consortia. The legislation would provide grants from the U.S. Department of Energy to these consortia to develop research, extension and education programs focused on regional energy needs. The legislation would authorize up to $300 million a year to be awarded, with at least 20 percent of funds being matched by non-Federal sources.

Storage Technology of Renewable and Green Energy Act of 2009 (STORAGE): In an effort to increase infrastructure supporting renewable fuels, the STORAGE Act provides investment tax credits for energy storage facilities and equipment that temporarily store energy for delivery or use at a later time. Currently tax incentives are only available for the generation of renewable energy, but output from wind, solar, and wave and tidal energy projects literally rises and falls with natural conditions. Storage technologies can help harness the output of renewable energy sources and allow them to be used when they are most needed. The bill encourages innovation by providing tax credits for a broad range of storage technologies, from water reservoirs to flywheels to hydrogen production to batteries when connected to the nation's electricity transmission and distribution system and when installed in homes, businesses, and factories.

Earlier this year, Wyden also introduced two other pieces of legislation designed to help move our nation toward a more secure energy future:

S. 536, Biomass Legislation: Seeking to expand much-needed sources of biofuel, Wyden introduced a provision that would amend the Clean Air Act to modify the definition of the term "renewable biomass" and lift a restriction on the use of biomass from federal lands for biofuel production in the Renewable Fuels Standard. Wyden's bill would open the door for biomass from federal lands to become a source of fuel for cars and trucks, promoting the harvest of non-commercial slash and thinnings from National Forest and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land at sustainable levels. The provision would provide protections for old growth and forests in national parks, wilderness areas, and other environmentally sensitive areas.

Sustainable Energy Training Program for Community Colleges Amendment: Taking steps to dramatically improve our nation's preparedness to compete in the renewable energy industry, Wyden authored an amendment in the 2009 Energy bill to fund job-training programs at community colleges in renewable and alternative energy fields. Based on the Community College Sustainability Act cosponsored by Wyden with then-Senator Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) in the 110th Congress, this amendment will authorize $100 million per year for five years to fund job-training and education programs for sustainable and alternative energy technologies at community colleges in Oregon and throughout the country. The provision would focus on training technicians to work in the wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy sectors as well as other alternative energy jobs. The amendment was adopted by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources as part of the Energy Bill. Wyden is also reintroducing the legislation as a stand-alone bill - the Community College Energy Training Act - to help ensure its passage.

More information about these pieces of legislation can be found at: