Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Senate Democrats have released a scaled-back energy bill that cracks down on BP and other oil drillers but avoids hoped-for debate over controlling carbon emissions across the economy.
The bill includes several new incentives and investments for cleaner-energy vehicles. That includes rebate programs and loan guarantees designed to encourage companies to convert their trucking fleets to natural gas-burning vehicles. It would also spend millions to encourage the installation of natural gas pumping stations to service those fleet
Plug-in hybrids and electric cars also get a nod, to the tune of about $5 billion. The package of incentives and grants for plug-in hybrids and high-capacity battery development reported here several weeks ago have made it into the bill, according the Senate Democratic aides. The package includes the development of at least a dozen demonstration communities where car-charging infrastructure would be piloted. It also contains a taxpayer-funded $10 million prize for the first firm to develop a battery capable of driving a car 500 miles on a single charge.
Democrats will also attempt to tighten the screws on BP and other offshore oil drillers. Caps limiting drillers to $75 million of economic damages following a spill would be lifted entirely in the Democrats draft. That could get significant push-back from oil-state lawmakers, however. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), said Tuesday that the cap should be raised but that it should not be lifted because doing so would jeopardize drillers who are important to the state's economy.
The bill would increase per-barrel taxes on drillers earmarked for the Oil Liability Trust Fund, a fund used to pay for spill cleanups. That tax is currently eight cents per barrel, though Democrats said they remain unsure how high they shoot for “the only realistic chance of getting the bill out of the Senate.”