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Bush signs bill to increase fuel efficiency

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President Bush on Wednesday signed an energy bill designed to cut U.S. dependence on overseas oil by imposing the biggest increase in fuel-efficiency standards in 32 years and mandating a fivefold increase in the use of home-grown biofuels.

"Today 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," Bush said in a ceremony at the Department of Energy.

Flanked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other congressional leaders, Bush thanked them for their "wisdom" in requiring the new standards. He also called on Congress to double the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve, open a portion of the Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to energy exploration and help expand the use of nuclear power.

Congress gave final approval to the 822-page measure Tuesday, delivering it to the White House in a Toyota Prius hybrid vehicle. Bush drove to the signing ceremony in the presidential motorcade, which includes his armored Cadillac sedan.

The legislation calls for a 40% increase in fuel efficiency for new cars and light trucks by 2020, for a fleetwide average of 35 miles per gallon. It also requires a fivefold increase -- to 36 billion gallons -- in the amount of alternative homegrown fuels, such as ethanol, that must be added to the nation's gasoline supply by 2022.

Noting that he called for an even greater reduction in oil consumption in his State of the Union address, Bush said that the legislation demonstrates that a Democratic Congress and a Republican White House "can find common ground on critical issues."

He praised Congress for adding money in the omnibus spending package that passed Wednesday for biofuel research that "will enable us to use wood chips and switch grass and biomass" to produce ethanol, which is now made with corn in the United States.

But the Democratic-controlled Congress and Bush are likely to face a tough time agreeing on other energy measures. Democratic leaders are determined to try again next year to pass measures Bush opposes that would require utilities to generate more electricity from cleaner sources, such as the sun and wind, and that would repeal oil industry tax breaks. Bush's desire to open the Arctic refuge to energy exploration has been thwarted in Congress.

Democrats, in the spending plan approved Wednesday, provided less money than Bush wanted to enlarge the nation's oil reserve, contending the money would be better spent promoting energy conservation and development of cleaner fuel sources.

But the bill did include money for loan guarantees to spur development of nuclear power, a provision that prompted environmental groups to visit Capitol Hill on Wednesday, caroling "Nuclear is Coming to Town."

The House approved the measure, 314 to 100; the Senate approved it last week, 86 to 8.

The bill includes a number of lower-profile measures aimed at reducing dependence on oil and cutting greenhouse gas emissions. By 2020, light bulbs will have to be at least three times more efficient than they are now. Appliances will have to be more energy-efficient. Televisions and computers will have labels showing how much energy they use. And a rating system will indicate how much greenhouse gases vehicles emit.

richard.simon@latimes.com

johanna.neuman@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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