Light Bulbs to Light Trucks, Efficiency Shapes New Energy Law

WASHINGTON, DC, December 19, 2007 (ENS) – Congress on Tuesday passed a new energy bill and sent it along Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House in a hybrid Prius car. Today President George W. Bush signed the measure, which includes the first increase in vehicle fuel economy standards in 32 years.

The House approved the bill, 314-100 on Tuesday. The Senate passed it last week by a vote of 86-8.

The bill mandates a fuel economy standard of 35 miles per gallon in the year 2020, and by the year 2012 the inefficient 100-watt incandescent light bulb will be history.

Signing the bill, President Bush said, “Today we make a major step with the Energy Independence and Security Act. We make a major step toward reducing our dependence on oil, confronting global climate change, expanding the production of renewable fuels and giving future generations of our country a nation that is stronger, cleaner and more secure.”

“The bill I sign today takes a significant step because it will require fuel producers to use at least 36 billion gallons of biofuel in 2022. This is nearly a fivefold increase over current levels,” the president said. “It will help us diversify our energy supplies and reduce our dependence on oil.”

President George W. Bush signs into law
H.R. 6, the Energy Independence
and Security Act of 2007. (Photo
by Joyce Boghosian courtesy the
White House)

The measure creates a 15 billion gallon Renewable Fuels Standard, RFS, for grain based fuels, which will be met primarily by corn based ethanol. It establishes a total RFS of 36 billion gallons by 2022, up from the current level of 7.5 billion gallons.

This RFS includes a one billion gallon requirement for biodiesel and requirements for cellulosic ethanol, made from non-food plant materials such as corn stalks, switchgrass, or wood waste from logging.

But a few hours before approving the energy bill, the House passed the 2008 omnibus spending bill that will direct $30 billion into subsidies for the nuclear power and coal industries.

The energy legislation is less ambitious than congressional Democrats wanted. An earlier version of the bill that faced a Bush veto included a $22 billion tax package that would have cut tax breaks for oil companies and handed financial perks instead to the renewable energy industry.

Still, Congressman John Dingell of Michigan, a Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, sees its value as “a piece of legislation that will be signed into law by the President and as such, it represents a glimmer of hope that we will be able to get beyond the gridlock that has afflicted us in far too many areas.”

“Its core is a series of requirements that will improve the energy efficiency of almost every significant product and tool and appliance that we use, from light bulbs to light trucks,” said Dingell.

“We are requiring a 40 percent increase in the fuel economy of our motor vehicles, and we are doing it in a way that gives manufacturers the flexibility they need to get the job done, while preserving American jobs,” he said.

But Joe Barton, a Texas Republican and ranking minority member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he could not support the legislation.

“I don’t oppose it out of spite, I don’t oppose it because we’re not in the majority. I oppose it because of what’s in it and what’s not in it,” Barton said.

“Let’s talk about what’s not in it. There is nothing in it for coal-to-liquids. There’s nothing in it for our domestic oil and gas industry. There is very little in it for the nuclear industry. So for all the conventional energy sources that fuel this great nation, this is basically a no-energy bill,” he said.

Congressman Joe Barton
represents Texas, an oil producing
state. (Photo courtesy NCS)

Barton said the measure would raise the cost of fuel, triggering a recession. “The cost of building our homes is going to go up because of all the new building code restrictions for so-called ‘green buildings’ in this bill. The cost of electricity is going to go up. The cost of manufacturing our automobiles and our trucks is going to go up.”

“The cost of appliances is going to go up because of all the new efficiency standards we’re putting in for appliances. And even the cost of light bulbs is going to go up. The light bulbs that light this chamber right now will be illegal when this bill becomes totally implemented. The incandescent light bulb that you can get for 90 cents or 50 cents at Wal-Mart is going to be outlawed,” said Barton. “That’s a cause for recession.”

Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, says the law does not go far enough.

“Some of the provisions we tried to include in the bill were blocked,” he said. “But advances in areas like renewable electricity and a forward-looking energy tax policy will not be blocked forever. Americans overwhelmingly favor these reforms. We will be back next year to vote on them, and we will keep up our advocacy until Congress finally catches up to the American people.”

Environmentalists too were disappointed in the bill except for the phase out of incandescent lightbulbs. “The lighting section of the energy bill is a bright light in an otherwise underachieving piece of legislation,” said Earth Day Network President Kathleen Rogers. “Along with the requirement that automobile fleets average 35 miles per gallon and building efficiency improvements, Congress took a very modest step in the right direction, but sold out to the oil and gas industries by approving huge subsidies to companies that are experiencing record profits.”

The bill requires that by 2012 to 2014, all light bulbs must use 25 to 30 percent less energy than they do today. Traditional incandescent light bulbs use almost 90 percent of the energy they use to produce heat, not light. The phase-in will start with 100-watt bulbs in 2012 and end with 40-watt bulbs in 2014. By 2020, bulbs must be 70 percent more efficient. Compact fluorescent bulbs already meet that efficiency standard.

Compact fluorescent pioneer Osram Sylvania, the maker of Sylvania lighting products, says the new law is expected to increase demand for energy saving lights, resulting in new products and lower prices.

Compact fluorescent lightbulbs
use a fraction of the energy
of incandescent bulbs. (Photo
courtesy SMUD)

“Osram Sylvania has advanced energy-efficient lighting technologies for more than 30 years,” said chief executive Charlie Jerabek. “We’re committed to money-saving, energy-saving products that help you light your space, protect your wallet and help save the planet. The new national lighting standards will encourage more innovation and more energy-efficient choices.”

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents the big automakers, expressed satisfaction with the new law. “This legislation will result in a 40 percent increase in fuel economy and 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from new automobiles, enhancing our energy security while at the same time addressing climate change,” the Alliance said today.

“This historic legislation would not have been possible without the efforts of auto workers, dealers, suppliers, user groups and industry allies in the business community – whose leaders and members participated in this process.”

Environmentalists say they will be back next year to lobby again for renewable energy.

“We handed Congress an ambitious agenda for clean energy at the beginning of this year, and this bill represents real progress in achieving cleaner cars, fuels, and appliances,” said Karen Wayland, legislative director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We will continue to fight for the rest of our clean energy agenda when Congress returns, starting first with incentives for renewable electricity.”

“Even though Congress is making serious strides towards moving clean energy legislation, it’s clear from the omnibus bait-and-switch that we have not completely broken the hold that dirty, polluting industries have in Congress,” Wayland said.

“The reductions in global warming pollution from the energy bill could very well be wiped out by the new sources of pollution funded by the appropriations bill, such as liquid coal,” she said, “which creates twice as much carbon dioxide pollution as gasoline.”

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