I was hopeful yet somewhat skeptical when I last wrote about the chances of meaningful energy legislation making its way through both houses and avoiding the president's recently discovered 'veto pen.' For much of Bush's tenure in the White House, the administration has had little or no need to break out the veto pen. But even when Bush does pass a bill that he has serious reservations about, he has preferred to use the 'signing-statement pen,' despite the fact that there is no Constitutional provision, federal statute, or common-law principle explicitly permitting or prohibits signing statements. Signing statements give an opportunity to the president to add a 'P.S.' that allows the president to voice rhetorical disagreement or otherwise evade proper execution of the laws. Despite the fact that Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution requires that the executive "take care that the laws be faithfully executed", the President has made clear on several occasions that he does not need to execute laws that he does not believe are constitutional.
In the preceding sixteen years of the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton presidencies, the three produced 347 signing statements between the three of them. By October 4, 2006, Bush II had signed 134 signing statements that challenged 810 federal laws. If you have more time and are really interested in this topic, I highly recommend Boston Globe columnist Charlie Savage's new book, Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy .
But before the president even has a chance to see a bill come across his desk, there are some serious substantive differences between the two bills that need to be reconciled, but it is quite possible the differences will not even have a chance to get ironed out before the impending vote some time this week. It appears as though Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid are ready to call for a vote on this before Thanksgiving break, without a conference committee on the subject ever have been convened. It looks like an extension of the production tax credit, and the establishment of aggressive renewable energy targets may be overlooked. Major obstacles to the successful passage of quality energy bill include:
1) The Senate version proposes the increasing of new vehicle fuel efficiency (CAFE) standards. Some House members have been trying to ratchet back the Senate-endorsed 35 mph mileage standard. The House version contains no CAFE standards.
2) The house version of the bill included a 15% renewables portfolio standard (RPS) for investor-owned utilities by 2020. States were also permitted to invest in energy efficiency in lieu of renewable energy. The Senate passed no RPS in their version, largely because Senators from the southeast states argued that they do not have adequate renewable resources.
3) There is a proposed repeal of oil, coal, and gas subsidies in the form of tax credits to big energy companies. Pres. Bush has said he would veto a bill with any such repeal and he may get the help he needs as K. Bailey Huthinson of Texas may have the ability to block a joint committee.
4) Perhaps the biggest issue for renewable energy advocates is the apparent lack of tax incentives such as the production tax credit (PTC) and the investment tax credit (ITC). I would be very surprised to see the PTC be passed over for extension, although some large wind energy manufacturers have already shown that they are not waiting to find out.
You can have an impact on what this energy bill looks like. These are not insurmountable obstacles. Urge your Representatives and Senators to consider the RPS, the PTC, and cuts in coal, oil and gas subsidies.