Energy bill is signed by Bush

President cautions that package will not produce quick results

August 09, 2005|By Edwin Chen | Edwin Chen,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - President Bush signed a comprehensive energy legislation package yesterday, saying it eventually would "help every American" by boosting the economy and lessening the nation's dependence on foreign energy sources.

"This bill launches an energy strategy for the 21st century," he said. "It's an economic bill. ... It's also a national security bill."

But Bush also cautioned against unreasonable expectations that the law would produce quick results.

"This bill is not going to solve our energy challenges overnight. Most of the serious problems, such as high gasoline costs, or the rising dependence on foreign oil, have developed over decades," the president said. "It's going to take years of focused effort to alleviate those problems."

Bush signed the measure on a day when oil prices hit a new high on the New York Mercantile Exchange, touching $63.99 a barrel for September delivery of light sweet crude before closing at $63.94.

But critics, and even some who backed the bill, said it did not go far enough, pointing out that the legislation does little to reduce the price of gasoline at the pump and contains inadequate provisions to improve U.S. energy independence or encourage conservation, such as requiring automakers to produce more fuel-efficient cars.

"The bill signed today by the president does not do nearly enough to put America soundly on the path toward energy independence, nor will it relieve customers from skyrocketing costs," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said in a statement.

He acknowledged that it does take "important steps" to increase the use of renewable energy, reduce global warming and cut dependence on foreign oil - as an example, it provides up to $3,400 a vehicle in tax credits, based on fuel savings potential, to purchasers of hybrid cars.

But overall, Reid said, the measure "looks too much to the solutions of the past and not nearly enough to the future."

Included in the law's 1,745 pages is an extension of daylight saving time, beginning in 2007, by starting it three weeks earlier and ending it a week later. The legislation also requires greater use of ethanol, made largely from corn, as an additive to the nation's gasoline supply.

The bill's chief sponsor, Sen. Pete V. Domenici, a New Mexico Republican, called it "the most important piece of energy legislation by the Congress in almost 50 years," but conceded: "It's not a bill for today or necessarily a bill for tomorrow."

But in the long term, Domenici said, the legislation would reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil while fostering alternative sources of energy and investing "billions of new dollars" in electricity generation and power transmission.

The brief signing ceremony at Sandia National Laboratories marked the culmination of a 4 1/2 -year drive by Bush that gained critical momentum only after petroleum prices reached historic highs earlier this year.

He had made new energy legislation a priority when he took office in 2001, amid California's energy crisis. Two years ago, the bill was scuttled just before final passage in a House-Senate dispute over a provision mandating legal protection for manufacturers of a controversial gasoline additive that fouled water supplies. The legislation Bush signed yesterday omitted that language, ensuring passage by both chambers.

Among those who called for additional energy measures was Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, the top Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

"We also need to rededicate ourselves to making further progress toward national energy security," said Bingaman, who joined Domenici and Bush for the ceremony. For instance, Bingaman called for "flexible but mandatory measures to address global warming" and new efforts to tap renewable energy.

The United States imports about 60 percent of its oil - up from 45 percent a decade ago - and, Bingaman said, the new legislation "will not markedly reduce these imports."

The president, who is spending this month at his ranch near Waco, Texas, is to meet today with his top economic advisers and plans to highlight recent gains. He previewed the message during his remarks yesterday.

"Workers are ... taking home more of what they earn," he said. "Inflation is low, mortgage rates are low. Home ownership in America is at an all-time high. In other words, this economy is moving. And what this energy bill does is it recognizes that we need more affordable and reliable sources of energy in order to make sure the economy continues to grow."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Energy bill

Highlights of the energy bill signed by President Bush yesterday:

Total cost to the government after revenue offsets: $12.3 billion over 10 years.

Tax breaks of $14.5 billion over 10 years for energy companies, renewable energy sources and promotion of efficiency.

Requirement for refiners to use 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol annually by 2012, double current production.

Extension of daylight-saving time by a month, beginning in 2007.

New efficiency standards for commercial appliances, from air conditioners to refrigerators.

Requirement for utilities to meet federal reliability standards for the electric transmission grid, aimed at preventing blackouts such as the one in the summer of 2003.

Easing the way for more imports of liquefied natural gas by giving federal regulators final say over import terminals.

$1 billion for coastal environmental management in states where there is offshore oil production.

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