WASHINGTON – In a week where oil prices hit a two-month high on Wall Street and the U.S. entered high-level talks with Iran, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, unveiled an energy bill designed to strengthen national energy independence and help combat global warming.
The measure proposes an advanced vehicle efficiency program on the scale of the Manhattan Project, the mammoth World War II multi-national program to develop the first nuclear weapon, and would increase federal commitment to using alternative fuels.
“We simply cannot ignore our addiction to foreign sources of oil any longer,” Hoyer said, echoing a favorite phrase of President Bush in a news conference Thursday.
In January, when Congress passed the CLEAN Energy Act as part of the Democrats’ 100 Hours Agenda, Hoyer called the measure, which redirects billions in oil subsidies toward the development of renewable energy, alternative fuels, and oil conservation and efficiency programs, a “first step” in changing U.S. energy policy.
The Program for Real Energy Security Act, authored by Hoyer, is apparently another leap.
The measure, announced Thursday by Hoyer and fellow Democrats, complements other Democratic efforts on energy, Hoyer said.
“And, in short, it would initiate a robust national program — akin to the Manhattan Project on energy independence.”
The PROGRESS Act will be introduced to Congress Monday, Hoyer said, with the support of at least 100 co-sponsors. Last July, Hoyer introduced virtually identical legislation with 129 co-sponsors, but the measure did not succeed in the Republican-led Congress.
The PROGRESS Act has five components, Hoyer said.
It would establish a bipartisan National Energy Security Commission of government, industry and academic leaders to develop national energy goals and would establish a new “Manhattan Center for High Efficiency Vehicles,” a nationally sponsored program seeking to double the average vehicle efficiency and to diversify fuel types.
The measure would also enact a biofuels infrastructure development program, providing grants to encourage the private sector to invest in wholesale and retail biofuel pumps, tanks and related distribution equipment.
In addition, it calls for upgrading the freight rail system, the nation’s “pipeline” for biofuels, Hoyer said, and would provide grants to promote national oil conservation alternatives, like public transit and commuter rail systems.
Last, the measure would increase the use of alternative fuels in federal fleets, said Hoyer, who for security reasons is chauffeured in a flex-fuel car, which is capable of running on regular gasoline, ethanol or a combination thereof. Hoyer is also responsible for placing the first pump dispensing E-85 fuel, a high-proportion ethanol-gasoline mix, on the Capitol Hill complex.
The PROGRESS Act is an important national security measure, said Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., a former member of the House Armed Services Committee. Last year, the Defense Department spent $10.6 billion dollars in basic energy costs, $4.7 billion of which was used to fuel Air Force planes.
“We are borrowing money from China to fund our defense budgets to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to fuel our weapons to protect us from China and the Persian Gulf,” Israel said. “It’s not an absurdity. It’s a fundamental vulnerability.”
The federal measure coincides with Maryland legislative efforts this week to impose more stringent emission standards and increase the gas tax in Maryland.