ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — President Bush on Monday signed sweeping legislation that provides billions of dollars in tax subsidies to energy companies, yet does little to quickly ease gas prices or lower America’s reliance on foreign oil.
“This bill is not going to solve our energy challenges overnight,” Bush said just before signing the bill into law. “It’s going to take years of focused efforts to alleviate those problems.”
Bush traveled here from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, to sign the 1,724-page bill, which was passed, with bipartisan support, to end a yearlong standoff in Congress over national energy policy.
The bill-signing ceremony at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque begins a week of events meant to highlight recently passed legislation and underscore economic and national security issues. In coming days, Bush meets at his Texas ranch with his defense and economic advisers and travels to Illinois to sign a highway bill.
Supporters of the energy bill say that in the long run, the new law will refocus the nation’s energy priorities and promote cleaner and alternative sources of energy. Bush has said he believes the nation must find new ways, besides fossil fuels, to power the economy.
‘Strategy for 21st century’
“This economy is moving, and what this energy bill does is that it recognizes that we need more affordable and reliability sources of energy,” Bush said. “This bill launches an energy strategy for the 21st century, and I’ve really been looking forward to signing it.”
But even the bill’s sponsors acknowledged the legislation will have little, if any impact, on today’s energy prices or less dependence on oil imports.
Crude-oil prices rallied to a new high above $63 a barrel on Monday, reflecting market fears over the U.S. Embassy closure in Saudi Arabia due to security threats and concerns that shutdowns of U.S. oil refineries would reduce supply.
When he arrived, Bush took a tour of the Energy Department’s national solar thermal test facility, which was built in 1976 in response to the oil embargo and energy crisis. Bush walked in a field of mirrored solar panels, wearing shirt sleeves and sunglasses to ward off the bright midday sun.
New Mexico’s key role
New Mexico is home to Republican Sen. Pete Domenici, a driving force in getting the measure passed. Domenici, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the bill is not for today or tomorrow, but is a “bill for the future.”
“It means less dependence on foreign oil,” he said. “When we expand ethanol and the other things in this bill, we will grow less dependent, not all the way, but less dependent.”
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New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman, the top Democrat on Energy Committee, praised the passage of the bill but said more must be done to tap the potential of renewable energy, address global warming and use less oil from overseas.
The bill did not “markedly reduce these imports,” Bingaman said in a statement. “We need to build a consensus around effective steps to use less oil in our transportation sector, which is the basic cause of our increasing reliance on oil imports.”
Tax breaks for alternative energy
The measure funnels billions of dollars to energy companies, including tax breaks and loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants, clean coal technology and wind energy.
But for the first time, utilities will be required to comply with federal reliability standards for the electricity grid, instead of self-regulation. That is intended to reduce the chance of a repeat of a power blackout such as the one that struck the Midwest and Northeast in the summer of 2003.
For consumers, the bill would provide tax credits for buying hybrid gasoline-electric cars and making energy-conservation improvements in new and existing homes. Also, beginning in 2007, the measure extends daylight-saving time by one month to save energy.
“If you’re in the market for a car, this bill will help you save up to $3,500 on a fuel-efficient hybrid or clean-diesel vehicle,” Bush said.
Arctic drilling excluded
The bill’s price tag — $12.3 billion over 10 years — is twice what the White House had first proposed. It does not include Bush’s desire to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. Drilling advocates, however, have a backup plan that is expected to unfold in mid-September.
Domenici said he will include a provision authorizing Arctic drilling as part of a budget procedure that is not subject to filibuster. A similar maneuver is being planned in the House, although the final strategy is being worked out.
Critics of the energy bill are speaking out while Bush is in New Mexico. The League of Conservation Voters, The Wilderness Society, the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, USAPIRG and others plan to highlight what else is not in the energy bill.
Martha Marks of Santa Fe, president of the National Republicans for Environmental Protection, said the 10-year-old grass-roots organization was disappointed in the final version passed by Congress.
“It really gives a short shrift to conservation, and it still continues to subsidize the well-established oil and gas industries that really don’t need subsidizing especially when (crude) oil is $60 a barrel,” she said.
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