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Senators have ambitious plan to reduce energy costs

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Georgia's U.S. Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson say they want to reduce energy costs for Americans and help make the nation less dependent on foreign oil.

The pair joined eight other U.S. Senators in a coalition called the "Gang of 10" to create legislation that would effectively reduce gas prices short term, and create long-term alternative fuels.

The proposed legislation, known as the New Energy Reform Act of 2008, or New ERA, is a campaign of sorts to reduce the nation's gas prices and dependency on foreign oil while increasing alternative fuel choices.

New ERA is designed to transition the nation's automobile fleets to non-petroleum based alternative fuels, or fuels other than gas and diesel. It also seeks to ease energy prices through the use of conservation, consumer tax credits, and increased domestic production.

Chambliss spearheaded the legislation with fellow Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) in what has been hailed as a bipartisan effort.

"I believe this effort epitomizes what the United States Senate is all about," Chambliss said. "Nothing gets done in this body without 60 votes, and you don't get 60 votes without a true bipartisan effort. It is my hope that when we return from the August recess, our colleagues in the Senate -- after having just spent time at home with their constituents -- will come forward to support this effort."

The legislation would allot roughly $20 billion over the next decade toward the transition to alternative fuels for 85 percent of the nation's new automobiles, within 20 years.

About $15 billion would be used on alternative fuel technologies and retooling the infrastructure of auto parts and automobile making.

The remainder would be used as an incentive, up to $7,500 in consumer tax credits for individuals who buy alternative fuel vehicles, and up $2,500 for those who retrofit their automobiles. The proposal would include new consumer tax credits for purchasing fuel-efficient and hybrid vehicles -- up to $2,500 worth in credits.

"I know that the idea is to revisit a number of different options," said State Rep. Wade Starr (D-Fayetteville). "We really do need to look at a number of areas for exploration. We would have to make sure it's environmentally sound, but we have to do something about our current energy crisis. There is no question about that."

As it is, New ERA would require that all new production be used domestically. The legislation also supports expanded us of nuclear energy and would open more acreage in the Gulf of Mexico for leasing, while it allows Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia the option of leasing off shore.

State Rep. Steve Davis (R-McDonough) says he is a proponent of responsible leasing and drilling off Georgia's shore and would vote for it. "I believe that the state legislature, if the moratorium is lifted, would immediately back the off-shore drilling as well as nuclear expansion," Davis says. "The people are tired of high gas prices. I will support our Senators and our entire congressional delegation."

Members of the coalition expect that the New ERA will offset the roughly $84 billion in investments in conservation and efficiency with loophole closers and other revenues. Some $30 billion is expected to come from new revenues from the oil and gas industry.

"I've said for weeks that America has within its reach every resource necessary to be self-sufficient when it comes to energy," said Sen. Isakson. "We just need the political will and the common sense to make it happen. There is no silver bullet when it comes to reducing the cost of energy, but Senators Chambliss and Conrad have done an outstanding job leading this group to a number of solutions that I believe can work together to alleviate this crisis."

Other U.S. Senators involved with creating the New ERA bill draft include: John Thune (R-S.D.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).