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House approves energy bill, but showdown looms

Fuel-economy standards would rise, but Bush threatened a veto over tax breaks, clean-energy rules.

WASHINGTON - The House yesterday approved a sweeping energy bill that would mandate the biggest increase in vehicle fuel-economy standards since the days when gasoline cost less than a dollar a gallon.

But the Democratic majority faces a showdown in the Senate and with President Bush over other provisions.

The measure calls for a 40 percent increase in fuel efficiency for new cars and light trucks by 2020, for a fleetwide average of 35 m.p.g. - the first time that Congress would have raised the standards since they were established in 1975.

The bill represents Democrats' first major effort to attack global climate change and U.S. dependence on foreign oil since they won control of Congress a year ago.

The 235-181 vote came a day after a Senate panel advanced a separate measure that would establish a mandatory cap on greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants, manufacturing facilities and other sources, another reflection of the political change in the Capitol since the election last year.

All area Democratic representatives voted for the bill, as did three Republicans: Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania and Frank A. LoBiondo and Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey.

"This bill today is really a signal to OPEC that we mean business, and it is a signal to the rest of the world that we are serious about global warming," Rep. Edward J. Markey (D., Mass.), chairman of the Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming, said.

But the bill faces trouble in a divided Senate and a veto threat from the White House because of provisions - supported by environmentalists but opposed by industry groups - that would repeal a number of oil-industry tax breaks and require utilities to generate more electricity from cleaner sources such as the sun and wind.

In a statement, the White House acknowledged that reducing dependence on foreign oil and increasing energy security were goals that both Democrats and Republicans supported. But the administration chastised Democratic leaders in the House for pushing a "partisan bill."

Criticizing the proposal for raising taxes and increasing energy prices, the White House added, "That is a misguided approach, and if it made it to the president's desk, he would veto it."

The 1,055-page bill includes measures big and small.

It would promote the use of more energy-efficient lightbulbs and make available a $20-a-month benefit to workers who commute by bicycle.

It would repeal about $13.5 billion in tax breaks and steer the new revenue to promoting cleaner energy sources and technologies.

It would establish a program to train workers for "green"-collar jobs and make available bonds for community projects aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

Republicans panned the bill for failing to spur domestic production of oil and scoffed at suggestions that it would provide relief from high energy prices.

"We are moving from a market-based energy policy . . . to a government-mandated energy policy," said Rep. Joe L. Barton of Texas, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Democratic leaders, eager to end this session with a big accomplishment and anxious about political fallout from high gasoline prices, hope to send the bill to Bush before the end of the year.

The provisions opposed by Bush could be stripped out in the Senate and a pared-down bill sent back to the House for approval. The bill's backers are hopeful that tougher fuel-economy standards could get Bush's signature now that stricter rules have the support of automakers, which had resisted them for years.

An analysis by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy said the bill would reduce the projected energy use for 2030 by almost 8 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by 10 percent, with about half the savings coming from the tougher vehicle-economy rules.

The tougher standards, once fully implemented, would save about 1.1 million barrels of oil a day in 2020, according to the bill's supporters. The United States consumes 20 million barrels of oil a day and is expected to reach 24 million by 2020.

Key Proposals In Energy Bill

Car Mileage:

That carmakers be required to increase fuel economy of cars, small trucks and SUVs 40 percent to an industry average of 35 m.p.g. by 2020.

Renewable motor fuels:

A sevenfold increase in use of ethanol as a motor fuel, to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022.


A $21 billion tax package, with a rollback of $13.5 billion in tax breaks for the five largest oil companies. The revenue is to be used for tax incentives to promote renewable fuels.


That utilities be required to produce 15 percent of their power from renewable energy such as wind or solar.

Energy efficiency:

energy-efficient appliances and energy efficiency in federal and commercial buildings.

Hybrid cars:

Tax incentives to develop plug-in hybrid electric cars and tax credits on vehicles.

- AP