WASHINGTON – The House on Thursday brushed aside a new White House veto threat and handily approved a comprehensive energy bill that would raise automobile fuel-efficiency standards for the first time in 32 years and require increased use of renewable energy sources to generate electricity.
The 235 to 181 vote sends the measure to the Senate, where Republicans hope to strip it of tax increases on the oil industry and the renewable source requirement before a final version goes to President Bush. The White House objects to the bill on multiple fronts, including the prospect of tax boosts on oil companies, saying that Bush would veto it.
But with energy prices soaring, lawmakers expressed strong bipartisan support for fuel-efficiency standards, which Congress has not changed since the mid-1970s. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., called the package “nothing less than our nation’s declaration of independence from foreign sources of energy.”
Even House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio – who assails the measure as a “no-energy” bill and as a tax increase that would raise, not lower, energy costs – lauded the corporate average fuel-efficiency (CAFE) standards as a good and reasonable compromise.
“There is a real appetite to increase CAFE standards. The only question has been how much and how fast,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa. “Everybody understands we need to give Detroit a nudge. We just don’t want to push them off a cliff.”
Under the measure, auto manufacturers’ vehicle fleets would have to average 35 miles per gallon by 2020, a 40 percent increase. By that same deadline, 15 percent of the electricity generated by the nation’s utilities would have to come from renewable sources, such as solar and wind power, as well as biomass.
The measure would provide tax incentives to bring about a sevenfold increase in the use of ethanol as a motor fuel by 2022, when a required 36 billion gallons of it would be on the market each year. Two-thirds of those gallons would have to be “cellulosic” – derived from feedstock such as prairie grass and wood chips, or other non-corn-based biofuels.
The bill also includes appliance and light bulb standards that would effectively phase out, by the middle of next decade, the incandescent light bulb invented by Thomas Edison.
To finance tax incentives for hybrid cars, ethanol production and renewable-energy development, the bill includes $21 billion in revenue increases, including a rollback of $13.5 billion in tax breaks for the five largest oil companies.
Missing from the energy bill is a clause that would limit the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to set standards for emissions from vehicle tailpipes. In April, the Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide is a pollutant subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act. The EPA must now issue regulations. The agency is weighing a waiver application that would allow California and a dozen other states to set their own standards.
Automakers and their allies want to make sure the EPA does not issue even more demanding fuel-efficiency regulations.
Critics of the bill took aim at almost every component besides the fuel-efficiency standards. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said the biofuels target would set a mandate “that can’t be met.” Others said the renewable-source standard would put an unfair burden on Southeastern states, which are not considered good places for wind power generation. Supporters of the bill said, however, that those states are good sites for solar power plants.