Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, today we are considering S. 295, the Small Business Energy Emergency Relief Act of 2001. I have waited weeks to bring this bill before the Senate, and so I am very pleased that we are voting on this bill today.

I introduced this bill to address the significant price increases of heating fuels and electricity and the adverse impact those prices are having on our more than 24 million small businesses, small farmers included, and the self-employed. The support for this bill reflects how much small businesses in our States from Massachusetts on the east coast to California on the west coast--are feeling the sting of high heating and electricity bills.


As so many of my colleagues know, in addition to electricity, many small businesses are dependent upon heating oil, propane, kerosene or natural gas. They are dependent either because they sell or distribute the product, because they use it to heat their facilities, or because they use it as part of their business. The significant and unforseen rise in the price of these fuels over the past two years, compounded by cold snaps and slowed economic conditions this winter, threatens their economic viability.

According to the Department of Energy, the cost of heating oil nationally climbed 72 percent from February 1999 to February 2000, the cost of natural gas climbed 27 percent from September 1999 to September 2000 and 59 percent over the past year, and the cost of propane climbed 54 percent from January 2000 to January 2001.

As I said when I introduced this bill on February 8, the financial falter or failure of small businesses has the potential to extend far beyond the businesses themselves, and we must do what we can to mitigate any damage. Jobs alone give us enough reason to get involved and minimize the number of small business disruptions or failures because they provide more than 50 percent of private-sector jobs.

My bill, the Small Business Energy Emergency Relief Act of 2001, would provide emergency relief, through affordable, low-interest Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loans, EIDLs, and loans through the Department of Agriculture's Emergency Loan program, to small businesses and small farms that have suffered direct economic injury, or are likely to suffer direct economic injury, from the significant increases in the prices of four heating fuels heating oil, propane, kerosene, and natural gas or electricity.

Initially, this legislation covered four heating fuels, addressing the needs of both urban and rural small businesses. However, I listened to and worked closely with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to address their concerns. Consequently, we made the following changes, some of which I completely support and consider real improvements to the bill and good public policy, and some of which I don't entirely agree with but have accepted in the spirit of compromise. Let me go through the changes. I have already mentioned some of them in describing the basic legislation.

I incorporated a proposal by Senators BOXER and FEINSTEIN to include electric energy in the scope of the bill. I agree with this. There are more and more small businesses around the country being hurt by the spike in electricity prices, and I think they too should have access to affordable loans to help them through these difficult times.

I incorporated a proposal by Senators KOHL and HARKIN to extend similar disaster loan assistance for these purposes to small farms and small agricultural producers through the Department of Agriculture's Emergency Loan program. I agree with this, and I am glad we found a way to help small farms.

I incorporated a proposal by Senator LEVIN to allow the loan proceeds from the SBA disaster loans to be used for small businesses to convert their systems from using heating fuels to using renewable or alternative energy sources. This assistance was also supposed to be available to small farms and small agribusinesses through the USDA's emergency loans, but members of the Agricultural Committee objected. It's unfortunate that this assistance won't be available to small farms because I think we should encourage all industries to use renewable energy.

I incorporated a proposal by Senator Enzi to expand Senator LEVIN's amendment by including ``co-generation'' in the list of renewable or alternative energy sources. The addition of ``co-generation'' is to allow small businesses to invest in co-generation capacity to enhance efficiency and, as a result, reduce fuel consumption, save money and reduce pollution. I have some concerns about the addition of ``co-generation.'' First, it changes the scope of the Levin amendment by adding an efficiency technology to a list of what are largely renewable energy technologies. Second, ``co-generation'' is a broad term that can include different fuels, different technologies, and result in varying levels of efficiency gains. Because the bill does not establish specific performance standards for efficiency gains resulting from co-generation, I will watch closely over the coming two years to learn who participates and what kind of efficiency gains result, and to consider changes to the provision. It is my expectation that the program will only assist projects that will reduce energy consumption and pollution below business-as-usual levels. Third, while the bill is absolutely clear on this point, I want to reiterate that nothing in the bill exempts small businesses that participate in this program from compliance with all local, state and Federal permitting requirements, and public health and environmental standards. Senator Enzi hopes that this language will help facilities add co-generation capacity, increase efficiency, save fuel, save money and reduce pollution, and I can support that goal. I want to thank my friend from Wyoming for working with me on his amendment, recognizing my concerns and finding acceptable language.

I also incorporated a proposal by Senator Bond to sunset the program after two years, and a study of the program's usage to help Congress assess the merits of reauthorization. I preferred to establish a permanent program because, based on past experiences, I firmly believe our energy problems will persist for more than two years and the assistance should be available to small businesses when they really need it rather than waiting for Congress to act again. However, Senator Bond and I try very hard to work in a bi-partisan fashion, so I have agreed to the two-year sunset date with every intention of reauthorizing this program if it proves successful in helping small businesses. I would like to add that I expect the SBA , when it reports to our

Committee on the program, to include as much information as possible about loans approved for small businesses to convert their energy systems to use co-generation or urban waste. The purpose of Senator Levin's proposal was to encourage less pollution and less fossil fuel consumption, not more, which I fully support, and I plan to monitor any relevant projects.

Lastly, I would like to comment on the Congressional Budget Office's cost estimate of this bill, which will be published today. While I understand that CBO uses very conservative assumptions in its estimates in general, I question its cost estimate of this particular bill. I do agree with CBO that this program is genuinely needed and that small businesses in many parts of the country will apply for these loans. However, I question the assumption that the number of economic injury loans SBA makes will jump from the current level of 1,000 per year to 10,000 per year. If they do, it will only reinforce the need for this assistance, and not be an argument for opposing this program, but the projection seems on the high side.

And I disagree with CBO's assertion that ``many borrowers are likely to rely on such loans to invest in physical assets that could help cover the cost of energy bills.'' The legislation does allow small businesses to use the proceeds of SBA economic injury disaster loans for converting their systems to alternative or renewable energy sources, but they are not eligible for a loan unless they have also suffered significant economic injury due to the significant increase in energy prices and can't meet their financial obligations. While the loan proceeds may be used for such purposes if they convert to renewable or alternative energy systems, I believe the primary use of the loan proceeds will be to provide small businesses with working capital to meet their increased financial obligations. CBO's assumption, which I believe to be misguided, drives up the cost estimate of this program.

I thank my colleagues for their input and cooperation. I believe it made the Small Business and Farm Energy Relief Emergency Act a better bill for those who need the assistance. This legislation will help those who have nowhere else to turn. We've got the tools at the SBA and USDA to assist them, and I believe it's more than justified, if not obligatory, to use disaster loan programs to help these small businesses. Further, by providing assistance in the form of loans which are repaid to the Treasury, we help reduce the Federal emergency and disaster costs, compared to other forms of disaster assistance, such as grants.

I urge my colleagues to support this legislation. SBA's programs make recovery affordable for small business owners, and with the right support, can help mitigate the cost of significant economic disruption in your states caused when affected small businesses falter or fail, leading to job lay-offs and unstable tax bases. I also ask our friends in the House to act quickly and to support this legislation. Again, I thank Congressman TOM UDALL for his leadership on this issue in the House, and I thank his colleagues Congresswoman SUE KELLY, Congresswoman GRACE NAPOLITANO, and Congressman MARK UDALL for their early support of this legislation.