Merkley pitches plan to curb oil use, draws Reid’s eye

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) is seeking a leading role in Senate efforts to cobble together a broad energy package for consideration on the floor this summer.

The freshman senator on Monday used a speech at the Center for American Progress – a prominent liberal think tank with White House ties – to outline a proposal aimed at cutting U.S. oil demand by millions of barrels daily.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has vowed to use prized election-year floor time for debating energy legislation this summer, a package that is expected to include several legislative responses to the BP oil spill.

Merkley told reporters Monday that his office has been in touch with Democratic leadership about his proposal.

“We have had conversations, mainly staff-to-staff conversations, with Reid’s office,” he said after his speech. “I think leadership is supportive of the idea that energy independence is a key component of a national energy strategy.”

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, said Merkley “has got a lot of good ideas in his proposal that we intend to take a look at.”

The proposal emphasizes deployment of electric vehicles, further gains in passenger vehicle fuel economy, new efficiency rules for vehicles like delivery trucks and long-haul trucks, mass transit, and expanded loan guarantees and tax credits for next-wave biofuels, among other provisions.

The plan would reduce U.S. oil consumption by more than 8.3 million barrels each day in 2030, almost enough to completely replace imports and more than enough to replace all imports from outside North America, according to Merkley’s office.