Senate's energy bill calls for

higher-mpg cars, more ethanol

WASHINGTON - The Senate passed a trimmed-back energy bill yesterday that would bring higher-gas mileage cars and SUVs into showrooms in the coming decade and fill their tanks with ethanol.

The measure was approved with strong bipartisan support after Democrats abandoned efforts to impose billions of dollars in new taxes on the biggest oil companies.

The bill now goes to the House, where a vote is expected next week. The White House issued a statement saying President Bush will sign the legislation if it reaches his desk. Bush had promised a veto if the oil industry taxes were not removed.

The car companies will have to achieve an industrywide average 35 mile per gallon for cars, small trucks and SUVs over the next 13 years, an increase of 10 mpg over what the entire fleet averages today.

And it would boost use of ethanol to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022, a nearly sixfold increase.

Senate panel subpoenas Rove,

Bolten over prosecutor firings

WASHINGTON - The Senate Judiciary Committee voted yesterday to hold Joshua B. Bolten, the White House chief of staff, and Karl Rove, former chief political adviser to President Bush, in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with subpoenas in the panel's inquiry on the dismissals of nine federal prosecutors.

But it is by no means clear that either Bolten or Rove will be forced to testify before the committee anytime soon to provide the testimony and documents that it seeks.

The committee vote, 12-7, sends the issue to the full Democratic-led Senate. Bolten already faces contempt charges in the House over its inquiry into the dismissals - as does Harriet E. Miers, former White House counsel - but floor action is still pending there as well.

Contempt of Congress is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison. But in practice, disputes have typically been settled well-short of the jailhouse door.

In this case, the White House has invoked executive privilege in asserting that its present and former aides cannot be compelled to comply with the subpoenas. Many lawmakers, including some Republicans, disagree with that assertion.

Teens sing over school's PA;

scared teacher calls cops

ROXBURY, Conn. - A school custodian's impromptu after-hours karaoke performance prompted a police response when a teacher thought she was being threatened over the loudspeaker.

State police say the teacher at Booth Free School barricaded herself inside a classroom Wednesday when she mistook someone singing a Guns N' Roses song over the public- address system for a threat.

Six troopers and three police dogs showed up and found three teenagers, one of them a custodian at the school, who had been playing with the public address system.

Police say one of them sang "Welcome to the Jungle" into the microphone. The song contains the lyrics "You're in the jungle, baby; you're gonna die."

The teenagers were cuffed for about 15 minutes while police investigated. No charges will be filed, said state police Sgt. Brian Ness.

Feds: Chi's gambling adviser

skimmed biz $ to pay bookie

CHICAGO - Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's former adviser on gambling issues was charged yesterday with tax fraud for allegedly dipping into his roofing company's money to pay off gambling debts.

The federal indictment says Christopher G. Kelly, 49, placed millions of dollars in wagers with a bookie in Chicago and casinos in Las Vegas, then paid the debts out of corporate funds from his business, portraying the payments as legitimate business expenses. He also is accused of hiding $1.3 million in taxable income.

The charges are the latest in a long-running federal investigation of key people around Blagojevich, the second consecutive Illinois governor whose administration has become the target of a major corruption probe. Blagojevich has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Cops finding it pays to put

criminals on digital billboards

MOBILE, Ala. - Between ads for hamburgers and liposuction, the giant digital billboards flashed an image of Oscar Finch's face taken by a surveillance camera.

Finch, a suspect in a bank robbery, was in custody just a day later, and police say his swift capture is an example of how the eye-catching electronic signs can be used as a 21st century version of the Wild West wanted poster.

"We had been looking for this individual for 10 days and turned it around in 24 hours," said Mobile police spokeswoman Nancy Johnson.

Authorities across the country are also using the technology to search for missing children and to warn the public in emergencies.

Twelve billboards showed a grainy mugshot of Finch taken during the Nov. 20 heist. The image, which was mixed in with commercial ads, included his name, his alleged offense and a phone number to contact police. The 21-year-old Finch turned himself in on Dec. 1, just a day after his photo was posted. *

- Daily News wire services