December 19, 2007
President signes neutered Energy Bill
President Bush Signs Energy Bill
By Steven Mufson
Wednesday, December 19, 2007; 10:47 AM
President Bush on Wednesday signed into law legislation meant to reduce
The bill, the product of a year of rhetoric, lobbying, veto threats and negotiations, won final approval yesterday in the House of Representatives on a 314 to 100 vote, and Bush moved quickly to make it official. At a signing ceremony, Bush said the bill would "address our vulnerabilities and dependence" on imported oil, saying that the bill offered the country a chance to cut pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and even reduce the likelihood of terrorist attacks.
Lawmakers said the energy bill will reduce America's heavy reliance on imported oil and take a modest step toward slowing climate change by cutting about a quarter of the greenhouse-gas emissions that most scientists say the United States must eliminate by 2030 to do its share to avert the most dire effects of global warming.
"It is a national security issue, it is an economic issue, it is an environmental issue, and therefore a health issue," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "It is an energy issue, and it is an moral issue."
White House press secretary Dana Perino gave credit to Bush, saying he "pushed Congress to pass this legislation all year." But congressional Democrats said they had withstood veto threats by the White House as well as heavy lobbying by automakers and coal companies before ultimately preserving much of what they wanted in the legislation.
The bill's centerpiece is the boost in the minimum fuel-efficiency standard
for passenger vehicles, the first to be passed by Congress since 1975. It
requires new auto fleets to average 35 miles a gallon by 2020, a 40 percent
increase from today's 25-mile average. By 2020, the measure could reduce
The bill will also have sweeping impact in areas beyond the automobile industry.
For farmers and agribusiness, it is a windfall, providing more support than perhaps even the farm bill. It doubles the use of corn-based ethanol -- despite criticism that corn-based ethanol is driving up food prices, draining aquifers and exacerbating fertilizer runoff that is creating dead zones in many of the nation's rivers.
The law will also require the massive use of biofuels using other feedstocks, creating an industry from technologies still in laboratories or pilot stages whose economic viability is unproven. The law says that at least 36 billion gallons of motor fuel a year should be biofuels by 2022, most of it in "advanced biofuels," not a drop of which are commercially produced today.
Although the bill does not include any costs for the biofuels mandate, a fivefold increase over current production, it is likely that current subsidies for those fuels will be extended. If so, the mandate could cost the federal government as much as $140 billion over 15 years.
Bush and congressional supporters of the bill say the expanded use of
biofuels will help cut
One portion of the bill sets new efficiency standards for appliances and
will make the incandescent bulb -- invented two centuries ago and improved and
The commercial building industry could also be transformed by new incentives for energy-efficient windows, equipment and design. The federal government is supposed to make all of its buildings carbon-neutral through energy efficiency and clean energy use by 2030.
"The General Services Administration is the country's biggest landlord," said Andrew Goldberg, chief lobbyist for the American Institute of Architects. "This will help transform the marketplace for systems and equipment that make buildings more energy efficient and reduce the reliance on fossil fuel."
Not everyone was happy at the end of a year of haggling and lobbying. To secure passage for the bill, congressional leaders dropped a tax package that would have reduced breaks for the biggest oil and gas companies and extended breaks for wind and solar projects.
"We're pretty disappointed," said Rhone A. Resch, president of the
Solar Energy Industries Association, which sought an extension of the
investment tax credit that expires at the end of next year. "Clearly the
most important provisions for us were left on the cutting-room floor."
Resch said that because of long lead times for big solar projects, "we
will see the
But many environmental groups and lawmakers were elated. "This bill is a clean break with the failed energy policies of the past and puts us on the path toward a cleaner, greener energy future," said Carl Pope, director of the Sierra Club.
Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who proposed raising fuel-efficiency standards
in 2001, 2003 and 2005, said that the energy bill would help the
Two years ago, a Markey amendment on fuel efficiency failed by an 87-vote margin, closer than his earlier efforts. But this year Democratic leaders made an energy bill a top priority. And Bush, in his State of the Union address, endorsed a similar boost in gasoline mileage standards and urged Americans to break their "addiction" to oil.
Soaring prices for oil and petroleum products and growing public concern
about climate change also encouraged lawmakers to back higher fuel-efficiency
"I think between process, policy and politics it all came together and we have an energy bill no one could have envisioned six months ago," said Phyllis Cuttino, director of the Pew Campaign for Fuel Efficiency.
Cuttino said that the Pew Campaign, founded in April, would close its doors in mid-January.
Posted by Martin at December 19, 2007 11:27 AM
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