Broad Energy Bill Passed by House

By Jonathan Weisman and Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 7, 2007

The House yesterday brushed aside a new White House veto threat and handily approved a comprehensive energy bill that would raise automobile fuel-efficiency standards for the first time in 32 years and require increased use of renewable energy sources to generate electricity.

The 235 to 181 vote sends the measure to the Senate today. There, Republicans hope to strip it of tax increases on the oil industry and the renewable-source requirement before a final version goes to President Bush. The White House objects to the bill on multiple fronts, including the prospect of tax boosts on oil companies, saying Bush would veto it.

But with energy prices soaring, lawmakers from both parties expressed strong support for fuel-efficiency standards, which Congress has not changed since the end of the muscle-car era in the mid-1970s. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) called the package "nothing less than our nation's declaration of independence from foreign sources of energy."

Even House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) -- who assails the measure as a "no-energy" bill and as a tax increase that would raise, not lower, energy costs -- lauded the CAFE (corporate average fuel efficiency) standards as a good and reasonable compromise.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), said: "There is a real appetite to increase CAFE standards. The only question has been how much and how fast." He added: "Everybody understands we need to give Detroit a nudge. We just don't want to push them off a cliff."

Fourteen Republicans voted for the bill. Seven Democrats opposed it.

"In the end, I voted with my heart," said Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.), a Navy reservist, who backed the bill. "I'm out of the Navy, but still in the Navy, and I want instability in the Persian Gulf to no longer be a problem for the Pentagon. I really think this will help."

Under the measure, auto manufacturers' vehicle fleets would have to average 35 miles per gallon by 2020, a 40 percent increase over the current requirement. By that same deadline, 15 percent of the electricity generated by the nation's utilities would have to come from renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, as well as biomass.

The measure would provide tax incentives to bring about a sevenfold increase in the use of ethanol as a motor fuel by 2022, when a required 36 billion gallons of it would be on the market each year. Two-thirds of those gallons would have to be "cellulosic" -- derived from feedstock such as prairie grass and wood chips, or other non-corn-based biofuels.

The bill also includes appliance and light-bulb standards that would effectively phase out, by the middle of the next decade, the incandescent bulb invented by Thomas Edison.

To finance tax incentives for hybrid cars, ethanol production and renewable-energy development, the bill includes $21 billion in revenue increases, including a rollback of $13.5 billion in tax breaks for the five largest oil companies.

Not included in the energy bill is a clause that would limit the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to set standards for emissions from vehicle tailpipes. In April, the Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide is a pollutant subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act. The EPA must now issue regulations. The agency is weighing a waiver application that would allow California and a dozen other states to set their own standards.

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