Senate Approves Farm, Energy Bills

The Senate has been busy, passing both the Farm Bill and Energy Bill in the past couple weeks.

It wasn’t easy, but the Senate has passed its $286 billion version of the Farm Bill late last week by a 79-14 vote. The bill would expand subsidies to traditional commodity crops and has something for speciality producers for the first time. Now the House of Representatives and Senate must reconcile their versions.

Senate Ag Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) expects a quick conference between the House and Senate versions. President Bush has been a vocal opponent of the proposed Farm Bill, saying it misses the chance for true farm policy reform by continuing to reward big growers at the expense of family operations.

Earlier, the Senate approved the Energy Bill on Dec. 13 by a 86-8 vote. The House is expected to vote on the bill today.

According to the Associated Press, the bill calls for the first major increase — at 40% — by Congress in required automobile fuel efficiency in 32 years, something the auto companies have fought for two decades. The car companies will have to achieve an industry-wide average 35 mile per gallon for cars, small trucks, and SUVs over the next 13 years, an increase of 10 mpg over what the entire fleet averages today. And it would boost use of ethanol to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022, a nearly six-fold increase, and impose an array of new requirements to promote efficiency in appliances, lighting, and buildings.

If the bill is not changed from the version the Senate approved last week, the White House says it is ready to sign it into law, according to a Reuters report.

The House passed a broader bill on Dec. 6 that would have imposed $13 billion in new taxes on big oil companies like Exxon Mobil and required major utilities like Southern Co to get 15% of their power supplies from renewable sources by 2015. But Democrats in the Senate had to drop those items to avoid a White House veto and appease Republicans who were ready to delay a vote indefinitely, Rueters reports.

Reuters says the new fuel rules could reduce U.S. oil usage by 8%, or 2 million barrels per day by 2030, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

(Sources: Associated Press, Reuters)

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