Enviros rally against House Republicans’ new energy bill and drilling plans.
Photos: Kate Sheppard

House Republicans hosted a press conference on the west steps of the Capitol Building today to tout their new energy legislation, the “American Energy Act” [PDF]. But the 50 caucus members at the gathering were outnumbered by at least 100 protesters, who booed loudly at their calls to open up protected areas for more oil and gas drilling.

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As storm clouds gathered over head and members dripped sweat in the balmy D.C. heat, GOP leadership unveiled a bill that they say represents an “all of the above” energy strategy. On the House GOP website, the legislation’s goals are summarized as “increase production, innovate clean & reliable energy, increase supply, and encourage efficiency.”

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More specifically, the bill would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration and lift the moratoriums on drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf and on finalizing regulations for oil-shale development. Some of the revenue from new oil and gas leases would go to create a “Renewable and Alternative Energy Trust Fund,” with “alternative” being defined broadly enough to encompass oil shale, “clean coal,” and tar sands, in addition to the expected solar, wind, biomass, and the like.

The American Energy Act would permanently extend the production tax credits for wind, solar, and hydrogen (the House voted to extend the credits in May, but the extension got bogged down in the Senate in June). The bill would also create and extend tax incentives for fuel-efficient vehicles, homes, and businesses. It calls for a “cash prize” program to encourage the development of new energy technologies, to be awarded by the secretary of energy. This would include a $500 million prize to “the first automobile manufacturer incorporated in the United States to manufacture and sell in the United States 50,000 midsized sedan automobiles which operate on gasoline and can travel 100 miles per gallon.”


A sign promoting the new GOP energy bill.

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House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and the bill’s other 83 cosponsors want a vote on their legislation before the August recess. “The only thing that stands between us and this bill passing is Nancy Pelosi and the Democrat-controlled Congress,” Boehner told the crowd. “Let’s let Congress vote up or down on whether they think we ought to have more American-made energy.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put out a statement today saying the new bill “largely rehashes failed ideas on domestic drilling.” She said that Democrats are planning a vote tomorrow on a bill that would release some oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in hopes of quickly driving down oil prices.

At the press conference on the Capitol steps, folks from the National Wildlife Federation, Campus Progress, Friends of the Earth, U.S. PIRG, Environment America, The Wilderness Society, and other green groups were out in force, bearing signs that read “Save Our Shores” and “Clean Energy Now!” Others went directly after the premise that drilling would lower oil prices — the main point the Republicans were trying to convey at the gathering — with signs saying “Drill more: Useless.” They hoped to send the message that investment in renewables shouldn’t be contingent on more drilling, and that the U.S. needs to wean itself from oil. “More drugs do not help beat the addiction,” said a press release from Defenders of Wildlife.