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  Congress passes energy bill
Web Extra December 18, 2007

Congress passes energy bill

Congress approved a 40 percent hike in fuel economy standards today, 32 years after the first standards were signed into law. The energy bill also provides energy efficiency guidelines for households and aims to increase the production of biofuels. President Bush is expected to sign the bill into law as early as Wednesday.

The new energy bill calls for cars and trucks to average 35 miles per gallon by 2020. According to an analysis by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the new miles-per-gallon efficiency of entire fleets of new passenger cars and light trucks — called the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards — will save more than 1 million barrels of oil per day by 2020 and close to 2 million barrels per day by 2025. Democrats said the efficiency standards could amount to annual fuel savings of $700 to $1,000 per household. The new standards mark the first time sport utility vehicles, vans and pickup trucks have been included in the CAFE standards.

The bill will also give a boost to biofuels by requiring a fivefold increase in ethanol production over the next 15 years. Although the focus will initially be on corn ethanol, by 2022, 21 billion gallons of the 36 billion gallons of biofuels required each year will be from non-corn sources, with an emphasis on cellulosic ethanol, which comes from wood chips, fast-growing trees, corn stalks and grasses. However, the technology is not yet developed to mass produce cellulosic ethanol.

Still, U.S. corn growers are ecstatic. “The passage of this historic bill is a major step toward energy independence,” said Ron Litterer, president of the National Corn Growers Association, in a statement posted Tuesday on their Web site. “We eagerly await the president signing this legislation into law.”

The legislation also sets new energy efficiency standards for household appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines. In addition, the bill phases out the usage of incandescent light bulbs over the next 13 years, with a switch to more efficient bulbs, such as fluorescent or LED bulbs.

“This bill . . . puts us on the path toward a cleaner, greener energy future,” said Sierra Club’s Executive Director Carl Pope in a statement on Tuesday. “As it becomes ever clearer that urgent action is needed to combat global warming, this bill will make real progress by achieving a quarter of the cuts we need by 2030 if we are to avert the most catastrophic effects of a warming climate.”

Originally the bill included a broad tax package that would have rolled back approximately $13 billion in tax breaks for the oil industry and instead would have funded incentives for development of wind, solar and alternative fuel technologies, as well as energy efficiency and conservation programs (see Geotimes online, Web Extra, June 22, 2007). The oil industry, the White House and many Republican congressmen vehemently opposed such a measure, arguing that rescinding the tax breaks would hurt consumers. This controversial version of the bill made it through the House in early December, but stalled in the Senate, where Democrats fell one vote shy of overcoming a Republican filibuster last week.

But the bill passed easily after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., agreed to drop the tax package. “Compromise can be frustrating, it can be exasperating, and it can be maddening,” Reid said in a statement posted on his Web site on December 13. "But at the end of the day, compromise can lead to progress — and that is exactly what we have."

Cassandra Willyard

Links:
Senate passes energy bill,” Geotimes online, Web Extra, June 22, 2007 
Congress seeks a balance: Energy and climate,” Geotimes, December 2007 
Peak ethanol,” Geotimes, December 2007 
Carbon dioxide CAFE,” Geotimes, December 2007 

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