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Bingaman reports on energy and health bills

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By Roger Snodgrass

New Mexico’s senior senator reported on the status of two key bills that are slowly advancing in Washington.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M, has been cast in a central role in both the energy bill and the health care reform bill now playing center stage in Congress.

“We passed out (of committee) a bill we called the American Clean Energy Leadership Act,” Bingaman said in a press conference Monday in Washington. “We got 15 of the 23 members of the committee in support.”

That bill is not expected to reach the Senate Floor before August, he said.

As chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Bingaman expressed satisfaction that the measure is a positive step toward more efficient use of energy for buildings, manufacturing and consumer goods, and the creation of a more capable and robust transmission grid.

“It will eliminate the need to build more and more power plants,” he said.

Bingaman expressed disappointment that the Renewable Energy Standard was not stronger. The standards include a requirement that 15 percent of electricity be generated from renewable resources or alternatives such as creating energy efficiencies or purchasing energy efficiency credits.

It may be possible to strengthen the bill as it moves forward, Bingaman added.

Meanwhile, the health care debate has just begun in the Senate Health, Labor and Pension Committee, and will soon follow in the Senate Finance Committee. Bingaman is a member of both committees.

“We’re going to have to get some Republican support in order to pass health care reform in the Senate,” he said. “I hope we’re going to get there.

Bingaman said he favored including what is called “a public option,” – a publicly run health insurance system that would be available to everyone and affordable, but he said it must not add to the deficit.

“I think we can design one that can accomplish that,” he said.

He said it would have to be designed in such a way that it did not give the public plan an undue advantage over private plans, that is, the public plan should not have deficits to be bailed out be the federal government.

Once the plan is up and running, it would have to charge enough from premiums for people who participate to cover administration, pay for the health care services and also have the funds to repay the loan over time,” he said, “the loan the federal government would have to provide to get the system up and running in the first place.

“There are a lot of steps in this process and it’s hard to see how we get them all done before August,” he said.

According to a detailed summary of the American Clean Energy Act, provided by Bingaman’s office, the bill would establish a Clean Energy Investment Fund that would be administered by a new Clean Energy Deployment Administration to promote and invest in clean energy technologies.

Among the more contentious measures, the proposed bill excludes nuclear energy from the list of sources qualifying as renewables, which are wind, solar, ocean, geothermal, biomas, landfill gas, and hydroelectric powers systems.

The bill, as passed by the full committee, addresses the unresolved issue of a nuclear waste by establishing a commission to conduct a comprehensive study on the matter.

Drilling opens the Eastern Gulf of Mexico to leasing and exploration for oil and gas beyond a 45 mile offshore limit and raises financing guarantees to $30 billion for an Alaskan natural gas pipeline to the North Slope, which currently produces about 700,000 barrels of oil, half of that in the Prudhoe Bay area.