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National energy bill looks to new industries for production reform

WASHINGTON - A new national energy bill became law Dec. 19, bristling with provisions that are expected to transform the auto industry through higher mileage-per-gallon mandates, the commercial construction industry through energy-efficient design and equipment standards, and the biofuels industry through a production target of 36 billion gallons of motor fuel generated from renewable sources.

The biofuels target supports doubling the use of ethanol, a corn byproduct, as motor fuel; but it lays a still heavier emphasis on biofuels produced from new technology. The bill's provisions encourage not only the transformation of the current biofuels industry, but the creation of essentially new infrastructure for a whole new industry. The law calls for the 36-billion-gallon benchmark to be met by 2022.

The most sweeping energy-production reform package in more than 30 years represents Congress' response to high oil and gasoline prices and global warming. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., with backing from 2001 on the signature fuel efficiency standard for autos by Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., has been designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which many scientists consider a key human contribution to global warming. Fuel efficiency and biofuels (produced from renewable sources such as corn or forest resources) emerged as the crucial measures against global warming after a year of acrimonious debate among Congress, the White House and various industry lobbyists.

Wind and solar power fell by the wayside, however, when their tax credits were dropped from the bill as one price of its passage. Other prices were new loan guarantees for coal and nuclear fuel producers, as well as maintaining the tax breaks of established traditional producers.

Bob Gough of the Intertribal Council on Utilities Policy and Native Wind said he hopes incentives for wind and solar power production can be restored in a tax package next year.