Bush signs $14.5 billion energy bill

As oil and gasoline prices hit new records, President George Bush signed an energy bill he called vital to the US economy, but conceded that it offered consumers no short-term relief at the pump.

    Bush called the new energy bill vital to the US economy

    The $14.5 billion legislation, passed by Congress after a four-year battle, boosts oil, natural gas and electricity supplies and promotes alternative energy sources.

    Bush said it was "a critical first step."

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

    The price of a barrel of crude oil reached a high of more than $63 on Monday and the national average price of a gallon of gasoline rose to a record $2.37. The United States relies on foreign oil to meet 60% of its daily demand of almost 21 million barrels. Gasoline use accounts for two out of every five barrels consumed.

    Economic momentum

    "This economy of ours has been through a lot and that's why it's important to get this energy bill done to help us continue to grow," Bush said. "What this energy bill is going to do, it's going to help keep momentum in the right direction."

    "As gasoline prices careen out of control, the bill keeps America speeding down the wrong road toward more oil consumption, more drilling and more pollution"

    Anna Aurilio,
    US Public Interest Research Group

    Before his speech, Bush emphasized the environmentally friendly aspects of the legislation by touring Sandia National Laboratory's National Solar Thermal Test Facility.

    Wearing stylish sunglasses in the bright sunshine, he and Republican Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico were led through an array of giant solar dishes with computer controlled mirrors that reflect and concentrate sunlight.

    Each parabolic dish can produce 25 kilowatts of electrical power, enough to power about 10 homes.

    Controversial Bill

    Supporters of the energy bill say it will revive America's nuclear power industry, boost oil drilling, convert coal into a cleaner-burning fuel and use home-grown, corn-based ethanol to stretch gasoline supplies.

    But environmental groups and some Democrats criticize its extensive tax breaks, subsidies and loan guarantees as a lavish gift to energy companies already enjoying near-record profits.

    "Big energy lobbyists may be cheering the bill's enactment, but ordinary Americans had better hold fast to their wallets,"
    said Anna Aurilio, legislative director of US Public Interest

    Research Group.

    "As gasoline prices careen out of control, the bill keeps America speeding down the wrong road toward more oil consumption, more drilling and more pollution," he added. 

    Energy efficiency

    Most Americans will feel the impact of new law in 2007 when daylight-saving time is extended by one month to save energy.

    The oil industry will face a 'crunch'
    in decades to come, say experts

    Consumers will also be able to claim tax credits for installing more energy-efficient windows and solar panels on their homes and purchasing hybrid fuelled vehicles.

    The new law will not curb oil imports with stricter fuel mileage requirements for gas-guzzling four-wheel drives and other vehicles.

    When Congress returns from its summer break in September, lawmakers will turn to implementing the next -and most controversial -phase of Bush's national energy plan -allowing oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

    Bush's Republican allies in Congress plan to add ANWR drilling language to legislation that funds the day-to-day working of the federal government.

    If Congress approves drilling in the Arctic refuge this year, the first oil would not begin flowing until 2015 and reach a peak output of almost 1 million barrels a day, assuming the government leased the first exploration tracts in 2007, according to the Energy Department.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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