Energy bill boosts fuel-economy standards

APPLAUSE: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi are all smiles after signing an energy bill that included the first congressional increase in vehicle fuel-economy standards in 32 years. President Bush is scheduled to sign it today.
(AFP/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Soon, you won’t find those old-fashioned 100-watt incandescent light bulbs in stores. You will be able to buy more energy-efficient appliances. And you will see labels on TVs and computers that tell you how much energy they consume.

You will see stickers on new cars that specify not only how many miles they get per gallon but how much greenhouse gas emissions they produce. And when you pull up to the pump, you will fill your car with a mixture of gasoline and made-in-the-USA biofuel.

Those are some of the ways that the new energy bill will affect everyday life.

Congress on Tuesday gave final approval to the 822-page measure, sending it up Pennsylvania Avenue to President Bush in a Toyota Prius hybrid vehicle. Bush is scheduled to sign the bill, which includes the first congressional increase in vehicle fuel-economy standards in 32 years, at a ceremony today at the Energy Department.

Although the tougher vehicle miles-per-gallon rules have grabbed the headlines, the bill includes a number of lower-profile measures aimed at reducing U.S. dependence on oil and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

“In this bill, we ban by 2012 the famously inefficient 100-watt incandescent bulb,” said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), who co-sponsored that provision.

The House gave final approval to the measure, 314 to 100. The Senate approved it last week, 86 to 8. In addition to the 40% increase in fuel efficiency for new cars and light trucks by 2020, for a fleetwide average of 35 mpg, the bill requires a fivefold increase -- to 36 billion gallons -- in the amount of alternative home-grown fuels, such as ethanol, that must be added to the nation’s gasoline supply by 2022.

Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the bill would improve the energy efficiency of “almost every significant product and tool and appliance that we use, from light bulbs to light trucks.”

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy has projected that the bill will reduce energy use by 7% and carbon dioxide emissions by 9% in 2030.

The Washington think tank also has estimated it will save consumers and businesses more than $400 billion between now and 2030, “accounting for both energy cost savings and the moderately higher price of energy-efficient products.”

Energy analysts project that, although the tougher miles-per-gallon rules will increase the price of a vehicle an estimated $1,500, consumers will save $5,000 in fuel costs over the life of the vehicle, once the new standards are fully implemented.

But not everyone agrees about the benefits to consumers.

“The vehicles that are going to be made to meet this 35 mile-per-gallon standard in the year 2020 are probably going to cost $10,000 to $15,000 more than they do today,” Rep. Joe L. Barton of Texas, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said during the House debate. Barton also complained that the bill would raise the cost of homes, appliances and even light bulbs.

Food industry groups warn that the mandate for increased production of home-grown fuel, including corn-based ethanol, could drive up food prices. Scott Faber of the Grocery Manufacturers Assn. said the renewable fuel standard “won’t give us cheaper gas, but it will give us costlier meat, milk and eggs.”

Lowell Ungar, director of policy at the Alliance to Save Energy, a Washington coalition of business, consumer, environmental and government leaders, said that more energy-efficient lights bulbs will be more expensive, but consumers will, over the long run, save money on their utility bills.

“Consumers spend far more today to run their lightbulbs than they do to buy them,” he said. “If you go out now and replace an incandescent bulb with a compact fluorescent, it pays for itself in a few months.”

Harman’s provision would require that by 2020 light bulbs be at least three times more efficient than current ones. It also includes a provision that allows California to set stricter energy-efficiency standards for light bulbs.

Consumers will also be able to learn more about the energy use of products. The bill requires labels on televisions and computers that show how much energy they use, a measure supporters hope will spur manufacturers to make more efficient products.

Another provision requires a “rating system that would make it easy for consumers to compare the fuel economy and greenhouse gas and other emissions of automobiles at the point of purchase, including a designation of automobiles with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions over the useful life of the vehicles; and the highest fuel economy.”

The Consumers Union and Consumer Federation of America issued a statement Tuesday citing the bill’s potential to lower consumer costs but expressed concern about the record of two federal agencies charged with implementing the law -- the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, which implements fuel economy standards, and the Department of Energy, which implements appliance efficiency standards.

“Congress deserves an initial ‘A’ for enacting a good new energy law, but their final grade will be determined by how the executive branch implements the new standards,” said Gene Kimmelman, Consumers Union’s vice president, federal and international affairs.

Get our Essential California newsletter