House panel approves green-tech portions of 'stimulus' bill

Republicans and Democrats were at odds Thursday in the House Energy and Commerce Committee over which energy technologies should receive additional loan guarantees.

Stephanie Condon Staff writer, CBSNews.com
Stephanie Condon is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.
Stephanie Condon
2 min read

WASHINGTON--House Democrats rebuffed Republican attempts to include more loan guarantees for nuclear and clean coal technologies into the so-called stimulus package, along with Republican efforts to make the energy sections more market-oriented.

By a largely partisan vote of 34 to 17, the House Energy and Commerce Committee ultimately approved the energy portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which spends about $25 billion on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and electricity transmission. (See our related story about the broadband portions of the bill.)

The legislation creates a loan guarantee program for renewable energy systems, and the committee on Thursday voted to extend the loan program to specifically apply to hydropower, as well as commercially viable "leading edge biofuel projects."

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) had specific praise for the company Sapphire and its work producing algae-based gasoline, which he said will be commercially viable "any place with saltwater and sunshine."

However, the committee rejected an amendment to extend the loan guarantees further to apply to "zero emissions energy"--which would make nuclear and clean coal power eligible for the loans.

"This is a job stimulus bill, and there are literally 100,000 jobs that could be added if we increase our nuclear portfolio," argued Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who introduced the amendment.

The committee also rejected a Republican amendment to make carbon capture technologies eligible for loan guarantees.

Democrats insisted the amendments were inappropriate given that another portion of the stimulus package allocates $2.4 billion specifically for carbon capture and that using taxpayers' money for nuclear power would not create immediate economic stimulus.

"No amount of incentives will change the fact that no nuclear projects are ready," said Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) also pointed out that $10 billion in loan guarantees were offered to the nuclear industry last year.

Republicans and Democrats were also divided over the proposal to decouple energy rates from usage. The purpose of decoupling, Democrats said, is to enable energy companies to promote energy efficiency without facing the threat of lower revenues.

Inslee called it "the single most effective thing for creating jobs in energy efficiency and giving people an opportunity to lower their (energy) costs in the long run."

California's energy efficiency improved remarkably, in comparison with the rest of the country's, after the state adopted decoupling 20 years ago, Inslee pointed out.

Republicans were unconvinced and unsuccessfully tried to change that portion of the bill.

"I think this is the most anti-consumer vote any of us could make," said Greg Walden (R-Ore.). "This is the reverse of an incentive system."