On Capitol Hill: New Bill Aims To Boost DOE Fund For Fuel-Efficient Vehicle Development

June 26, 2009
http://www.flickr.com/photos/pong/ Creative Commons license

http://www.flickr.com/photos/pong/ Creative Commons license

Remember those loans we mentioned on Tuesday--the ones that the Department of Energy made to Ford, Nissan, and Tesla for the development of fuel-efficient vehicles? At the time, we said that certain members of congress were interested in doubling the amount of funds available to automakers, from $25 billion to $50 billion. Well, this weekend, lawmakers may get the chance to do just that.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) have sponsored a bill that would, among other things, allot additional money to the development of plug-EVs and other advanced-tech vehicles. TCC hasn't had the opportunity to read through the 1200-page legislation (it's Friday, after all), but we know that its centerpiece is a cap-and-trade system for power plants, refineries, and large factories, which is designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The bill also contains a clause that requires utility companies to consider adding electric charging stations the grids they oversee, which begs two questions: (a) what does "consider" mean, and (b) what about all those entrepreneurs hoping to line America's streets with charging points?

But we'll put those questions aside for now. As far as automakers are concerned, the big news is that if passed, the bill would double the loan money available for the development of electric and other fuel-efficient vehicles. On Tuesday, the DOE handed out the first $8 billion in loans from the $25 billion fund, and Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu has said that the remaining $17 billion will be awarded over the next few months. If passed, Waxman and Markey's legislation would obviously extend that timeline--which would be great news to Chrysler and General Motors, since they missed out on the first funding round due to their restructuring, and there's no guarantee that they'll be stable enough to make the cut for the second round.

It's a complex bill, and we're sure that it's not going to sail unfettered through the House and Senate. But we'll keep an eye on it between innings (and sets), just to be safe.

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