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Editorial | Stiffer Mileage Standards

Out of neutral

What's the old saying? "Half a loaf is better than none." That's the way Americans should feel about the energy bill President Bush signed into law yesterday.

It's progress, but oh, it could - should - have been much better.

Give Bush and Congress a round of applause for enacting the first increase in car fuel efficiency standards in decades. Detroit's motor fleets must average 35 miles a gallon by 2020; that's a 40 percent improvement.

If enough Americans actually buy the smaller, lighter cars that drink less gas, they could reduce U.S. oil consumption by 1.1 million barrels a day. That's no guarantee, though, since car makers will also continue to sell their popular gas-guzzling behemoths.

Carbon dioxide emissions also will be decreased significantly with the new CAFE standards, which would impact global warming.

That's good news, coming on the heels of last week's climate-change talks in Bali, where the United States more often than not was rightly depicted as an impediment to negotiations. The meeting in Indonesia did end on a good note, with an agreement Saturday that sets the stage for a replacement to the Kyoto accords, most of which will expire by 2016.

Meanwhile, the new U.S. law also calls for oil companies to increase the amount of renewable fuels available at gas pumps to at least 36 billion gallons by 2022, which would further reduce our need for foreign oil.

More good news, but it can't be ignored that the biofuels mandate means an increase in the production of corn-based ethanol, which could drive up grocery and other prices related to that crop.

The new energy law also fails to require utilities to significantly increase the amount of electrical power being generated from wind, solar and other renewable sources.

But perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the law is that it does not include provisions in earlier versions of the bill that would have taken away $13 billion in tax breaks to oil companies.

Given reported oil profits in recent years, that's hard to justify.

Taking away their tax breaks could have provided tax credits to consumers who take energy-saving steps such as installing solar panels or buying a hybrid car.

President Bush, who at one time asked Americans to deal with their addiction to oil, denied them the aid they could use to help kick the habit. It was his threat of a veto that kept better versions of the energy bill from passing.

Bush can be proud, though, that it's his signature that has numbered the days of the incandescent light bulb. The phaseout, beginning in 2012 with the 100-watt bulb, is to be complete by 2020. Thomas Edison may be rolling in his grave. But the bulb companies don't mind. They sell fluorescent lights, too.