Energy Bill: a little good news for public health

The “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007″ (H.R. 6) has passed the House and Senate, and is making its way to President Bush for a signing ceremony today at DOE headquarters.  Richard Simon of the Los Angeles Times reports that the measure is getting mixed reviews from interest groups.  Opponents, like the Grocery Manufacturers Association, say it will drive up fuel costs, while others, like the Natural Resource Defence Council (NRDC), are generally positive about the bill for its incentives to cut pollution and invest in energy-efficient technologies.  I haven’t reviewed the entire 822-page measure, but on the whole it appears the bill some much-needed improvements which could translate into benefits for public health.


The measure establishes a new “Renewable Fuel Standard” (RFS), requiring production of 36 Billion gallons of biofuels by 2022 of which at least 16 Billion gallons must come from sources other than corn (i.e., ethanol), including cellulosic biofuels produced from grasses and wood chips.  This will provide a healthy incentive for producers of biofuels; the current RFS contained a 2022-goal of only 8.6 Billion gallons of advanced biofuels.  The NRDC notes that the bill’s RFS provisions include:

“essential safeguards to protect our environment and public health…including minimum greenhouse gas pollution reduction standards, implementation of the program under the Clean Air Act, and critical protections for public lands, wildlife, and native forests.”

An NRDC analysis estimates that the RFS provisions alone will

“reduce global warming pollution by about 114 million metric tons per year by 2022, which is equivalent to approximately 1.5 percent of U.S. emissions in 2005.”

The bill also provides a long-overdue update to vehicle fuel-economy standards.  The current miles-per-gallon (MPG) standard for new cars is 27.5 and 22.2 for trucks and SUVs, calculated for the automakers entire fleet for each model year.  By 2020, the new fleet-wide standard will be 35 MPG.  

To my surprise, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says they are:

“pleased that a new federal fuel economy standard has been signed into law.  We believe this tough, national fuel economy bill will be good for both consumers and energy security.  It is critical that automakers and consumers have the certainty that this national, 50-state fuel economy law provides.  Importantly, this landmark agreement establishes nationwide fuel economy requirements for the next 12 years and beyond.  …Automakers are moving forward to tackle the challenges that these new requirements will demand. …This historic legislation would not have been possible without the efforts of auto workers, dealers, suppliers, user groups, and industry allies in the business community–whose leaders and members participated in this process.” (emphasis added)

Hmm….there must be some reason for the emphasis on “nationwide” and “50-state” MPG standards.  Could there be something in the bill which prohibits a more public-health conscious State, like CALIFORNIA, from mandating its own fuel-efficiency standards?  I haven’t skimmed through the 822-page bill to find it, but if you know, please let us know by leaving a comment. 

Regardless of this back-door dealing, I’ll take the high road and note that the Union of Concerned Scientists projects that these fuel-efficiency standards will save at least 1.1 million barrels of oil a day in 2020, and reduce green house gas emissions by 200 million metric tons per year (i.e., 3% of U.S. emissions in 2005).

The “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007″ includes a variety of provisions to encourage energy-efficient household products, from lightbulbs to dishwashers.  The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy says the bill will save U.S. consumers and businesses at least $400 Billion in energy-cost savings, reduce our nation’s energy use in 2030 by 7% and CO2 emissions by 9%. 

If one looks at the long evolution of the bill, it could easily be labeled a “watered-down energy bill”.   Earlier versions of the measure:

“would have required utilities to get 15% of their electricity from renewable power…and [included] a $22 billion tax package that would have allowed Congress to extend existing production and investment incentives for wind and solar power, raising money from Big Oil to help offset the spending.”

For a majority of Senators and the White House, taxes on Big Oil were a deal breaker.  It’s telling that firms with record-breaking profits in recent years (e.g., BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell) have seeming unlimited influence over our lawmakers.  Not until those funding provisions were removed did the measure stand a chance. 

Now, the bill becomes law and has enough good in it to say it’s a plus for public health.  If the bill is implemented and enforced as written, it can reduce in our energy consumption, which means less reliance on coal-fire powered plants and polluting automobiles.  This translates into fewer air contaminants, especially greenhouse gases, and better protection of the public’s health and environment.

See a Gristmill contributor’s take on the bill suggesting that if the policy issues had been framed differently, the outcome could have been an even better environmental health victory.

Celeste Monforton, MPH was born and raised in surburban Detroit, and like most southeastern-residing Michiganders, has family ties to the auto industry.  She does her part to reduce vehicle emissions by walking to work each day.