(by Sean Lengell, Dec. 19, 2007, WashingtonTimes.com) – The Democrat-led Congress yesterday sent President Bush an expansive energy bill that mandates the first increase in fuel efficiency for cars in 32 years and calls for greater use of renewable energy sources.
Democrats in both chambers of Congress hailed the measure, designed to help curb the nation”s appetite for oil, as one of the most significant pieces of legislation passed in several years, and Mr. Bush is expected to sign the bill into law today.
The bill “represents a vital turning point for our nation and a historic accomplishment for this Congress,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.
The measure’s centerpiece – a 40 percent increase in the average fuel economy for cars, sport utility vehicles and light trucks to 35 miles per gallon by 2020 – received wide bipartisan support, clearing the Senate last week 86-8.
Democratic supporters say the increased fuel efficiency will save the average American family $700 to $1,000 annually in gas prices by reducing oil consumption by 1.1 million barrels per day in 2020, half the current amount imported from the Persian Gulf.
The automobile industry initially had opposed the fuel-efficiency increase, saying it would limit the types of vehicles that they could produce and would cost jobs. But after failing to win enough support on Capitol Hill to block the 35 mpg mandate, automakers eventually acquiesced.
“The new fuel-economy standards within the bill set a tough, national target that GM will strive to meet,” said Rick Wagoner, chairman and chief executive of General Motors.
But some Republicans criticized the measure because it doesn’t encourage development of domestic oil and natural gas, or the nuclear industry. They also say some of its conservation mandates may not be technologically or economically possible.
Rep. Joe L. Barton of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, called the bill a “recipe for a recession.”
“For all the conventional energy sources that fuel this great nation, this is basically a nonenergy-energy bill,” he said.
Ninety-six House Republicans joined four Democrats in voting against the measure, which passed 314-100.
The bill mandates that 36 billion gallons of biofuels, such as ethanol, be blended with gasoline by 2022 – a sixfold increase from today. And it requires increasingly energy-efficient appliances and improvements in energy efficiency of federal and commercial buildings.
The bill also calls for a 70 percent increase in light-bulb efficiency by 2020.
Many Democrats grudgingly approved the measure, upset that Senate Republicans had blocked a provision for a $21.8 billion tax package that called for incentives for renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and biofuels.
The incentives were to be offset by repealing $13.5 billion in tax breaks for five large oil companies, a move that Republicans opposed because they said it would result in higher gasoline and heating-oil prices for consumers.
Senate Republican earlier this month also blocked another key Democratic proposal that called for utility companies to produce at least 15 percent of their electricity with renewable energy sources by 2020.
“I guess it’s the best we can do,” said Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat.
The bill received mixed reviews from environmental advocates.
Earthjustice, a nonprofit group that specializes in pro-environmental litigation, said bill will do much to save oil and help curb global warming by significantly reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from cars and light trucks.
“As Americans prepare to make their New Year’s resolutions for 2008, it’s heartening to see Congress make one to curb our collective oil addiction by getting us farther on a gallon of gas,” said Marty Hayden, the group’s vice president for policy and legislation.
But Greenpeace USA said the measure inadequately addressed the global-warming problem and did too little to spur the development of renewable energy.
“We are really disappointed with the outcome of this process,” said Chris Miller, director of Greenpeace USA’s global-warming campaign. “It’s a welcome step, but it doesn’t go far enough.”
FUELED FOR THE FUTURE
IN: Highlights of energy legislation passed by Congress and sent to President Bush:
- Car mileage: Requires automakers to increase the fuel economy of cars and small trucks, including sport utility vehicles, by 40 percent to an industry average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020.
- Renewable motor fuels: Mandates a sixfold increase in the use of ethanol as a motor fuel to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022, with 21 billion gallons to be cellulosic ethanol from such feedstock as prairie grass and wood chips.
- Energy efficiency: Requires more energy-efficient lighting and appliances, including refrigerators and dishwashers, and more energy-efficient federal and commercial buildings. Light-bulb efficiency will have to increase 70 percent over today’s most widely used bulbs by 2020. Also requires faster approval of federal energy-efficiency standards.
OUT: Proposals removed from the final bill:
- A broad tax package designed to pay for incentives aimed at spurring the development of wind, solar and alternative fuels such as cellulosic ethanol, as well as energy-efficiency and conservation programs.
- A requirement for utility companies to produce at least 15 percent of their electricity with renewable energy sources by 2020.
Source: Associated Press; The Washington Times
Copyright 2007 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com
1. What is the purpose of the energy bill passed by the Democrat-led Congress yesterday?
2. a) What will the bill require auto makers to do by 2020?
b) How do you think auto makers will change vehicles to meet the new standards?
c) Do you think that the changes will compromise the safety of the vehicles?
3. For what reasons did the auto industry say it was opposed to the fuel-efficiency increase?
4. Why did some Republican congressmen criticize the bill?
5. What additional requirements are included in the bill?
6. Why did many Democrats approve the bill “grudgingly?”
7. Who is the majority party in the Senate?
b) How do you think the Republicans were able to block additional provisions to the bill that the Democrats wanted?
8. How did the Senators from your state vote? Do you agree with their votes? Explain your answer.
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