— It is the start of a new year in US politics, and environment looks to be top of the agenda for the new Congress.
Two bills were introduced in Congress on Friday 5 December, one proposing to enforce a ban on drilling in a contested Alaskan wildlife reserve, the other calling for numerous energy-efficiency measures. The initiatives are poised to be mirrored in spirit on the other side of the Atlantic: the European Commission will reveal its new energy policy on Wednesday.
In the US, whether or not to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge of Northeast Alaska has been a cause of contention since the 1980s. In his 2000 election campaign, President George W Bush backed drilling in the refuge. The area is believed to hold 10.5 billion barrels of oil, and advocates have argued that drilling here could reduce US dependence on foreign oil.
Before that happens, however, Congress must approve any drilling. The US House of Representatives has approved drilling about a dozen times, only to have their plans scuppered in the Senate.
Edward Markey, democrat representative for the state of Massachusetts, is the main proponent of last Fridays Alaska drilling ban bill, which he has proposed several times in the past. He believes that the new Democrat-dominated Congress could spell a new beginning for the Alaskan reserve.
"We now have a majority of House members that have publicly said they oppose any drilling in the refuge," Markey told Associated Press. "In the previous Congress, we were battling the Republicans in the majority who wanted to drill.''
On 4 December, Harry Reid, democrat senator for Nevada, introduced the National Energy and Environment Security Act of 2007, seeking to reduce dependence not just on foreign oil, but on oil period.
"[The bill] lays out a number of important goals that will guide our thinking and action on energy-related matters, including the issue of global warming, in the 110th Congress," said senator Jess Bingaman for New Mexico.
The bill proposes increased biofuel production, a commitment to energy efficiency measures, rolling back incentives which sponsor the oil industry, and promoting alternative forms of energy, such as wind and solar.
"I predict we will be addressing these issues through multiple bills that move through the Senate," said Bingaman, adding that a bipartisan approach will nonetheless be necessary.
Over in Europe, the unveiling of a new energy policy is expected on Wednesday. The president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, gave Bush a preview during a visit at the White House on Monday. The Financial Times reports that the package will seek to increase Europe's use of renewable energy to 20% by 2020, and seek to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20% from 1990 levels, also by 2020.