TRANSPORTATION:

Electric vehicle advocates puzzled by omission from energy package

Bipartisan legislation to boost electric vehicles did not get included last week in the Senate energy package being pushed by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), but several advocates say they are not giving up hope that the language can still be incorporated.

Last Wednesday, electric vehicle supporters were flying high after the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the electric vehicle bill, S. 3495, with overwhelming bipartisan support, but later in the week, the bill's provisions were left out of Reid's energy package.

In announcing his plans, Reid said there were several good options and that he had to decide what to include in the bill. A source in Reid's office would not comment specifically on the electric vehicle language.

The fact that the bill has broad support might not be enough to boost its chances of getting into the broader package because that could open the floodgates to dozens of other bills with bipartisan support.

The electric vehicle bill passed the Energy and Natural Resources Committee with a 19-4 margin, a promising sign to supporters (Greenwire, July 23).

In a release after the passage, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who sponsored the bill, applauded his colleagues. "At a time when consensus in the Senate is rare, the overwhelming and bipartisan support for the electric vehicle bill is a significant win for smart energy policy," Dorgan said. "I'll continue pushing my other colleagues in the Senate to endorse this bill, which will help us break our addiction to foreign oil while boosting the economy by putting more electric vehicles on U.S. roads."

But when S. 3495 was left out of the energy package, Dorgan and co-sponsors Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) were scratching their heads trying to figure out why a popular, bipartisan measure would be skipped over while language concerning natural gas was included.

Dorgan spokesman Rick Gion said the senator felt that "if a comprehensive energy bill package comes to the floor, that provisions to boost electric car use in the U.S. should be included."

Another source on Capitol Hill said supporters were "pretty surprised" by the exclusion.

Robbie Diamond, the president of the Electrification Coalition, a group promoting electric cars, said he remained optimistic about the prospects of getting the bill into the energy package. He said the committee vote shows that the bill "not only should pass [the Senate], but needs to pass" and that an energy package without the language would be incomplete.

"It would be a shame in an energy bill that's supposed to address the dangers of our oil dependence not to include a measure that would work and has bipartisan support, demonstrated by the 19-4 vote," Diamond said. "With the right pushing from members on both sides, I think we can do this."

Supporters say inclusion in the energy package could be the last shot for S. 3495 to get passed. Sources say it is unlikely the bill would make it to the floor independently before November's midterm elections.

Genevieve Cullen, vice president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, also said supporters had a "strong case" for inclusion.

"It's just a matter of timing and election-year politics," Cullen said. "This seems like the best opportunity for us."

While the three sponsors' offices are working on getting the language into the package, odds are slim, others say.

The only transportation-related provisions in the package appear to concern natural gas, but many feel electrification has a more direct route to reducing emissions, since the cars are inherently cleaner and do not require pipeline infrastructure to be built. Still, while mainstream electric cars will hit the market this year, there are still concerns about the vehicles' range and a need for charging infrastructure.

The electric vehicle bill, S. 3495, would lay the framework for half of the country's cars to be electric by 2030. It would task the Energy Department to offer grants to between five and 15 "deployment communities" to create infrastructure and incentives to have 700,000 electric cars in use in a few years. The bill would also create a $25 million fund for research into switching federal fleets to electric vehicles.