House Sends President An Energy Bill to Sign

By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A year of rhetoric, lobbying, veto threats and negotiations ended yesterday as the House of Representatives voted 314 to 100 to pass an energy bill that President Bush is to sign this morning. The bill will raise fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles, order a massive increase in the use of biofuels and phase out sales of the ubiquitous incandescent light bulb popularized by Thomas Edison more than a century ago.

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 U.S. oil use by 1.1 million barrels a day, more than half the oil exported by Kuwait or Venezuela and equivalent of taking 28 million of today's vehicles off the road.

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 U.S. dependence on oil imports by replacing 20 percent of the motor fuel now being used. Moreover, they argue, ethanol produces fewer greenhouse gases.

One portion of the bill sets new efficiency standards for appliances and will make the incandescent bulb -- invented two centuries ago and improved and commercialized by Edison in the 1880s -- virtually extinct by the middle of the next decade. The bill will phase out conventional incandescents, starting in 2012, with 100-watt bulbs, ultimately ceding the lighting market to more efficient compact fluorescent bulbs and light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

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.

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