THE ENERGY BILL….George Bush has signed the energy bill passed by Congress yesterday:

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.

….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.

….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.”

Speaking of Rorschach tests, this is is a pretty good one. What do you think of this bill? Is it a weak-kneed sellout by spineless Dems unwilling to take a stand for real energy reform? Or a pretty good effort from a party with a slim majority and a recalcitrant president, one that that makes a modest but real difference that a future Democratic president can build on?

I’ll take Door #2, please. Yes, there’s still too much corn ethanol in this bill, and losing the 15% mandate for renewable electricity generation was a blow. But seriously, compare this bill to the energy industry porkfest that a Republican congress passed in 2005. It’s like night and day. That one was little more than a massive handout to every energy lobbyist who ever dined at Charlie Palmer’s. Today’s bill, by contrast, actually accomplishes something. The CAFE increase to 35 mpg, all by itself, is historic, and 60% of the fuel mandate is for advanced biofuels and cellulosic ethanol, rather than the corn variety. This is real legislation that addresses a real problem, not a handout for campaign donors masquerading as “reform.”

With this bill signed, the fight for an even better bill starts tomorrow. But without a Democratic congress we’d still be fighting to get even this much — and we wouldn’t be any closer than we were five years ago. So, warts and all, good job, Harry and Nancy.

But if you want an alternate view, check out Ken Ward here. “Weak-kneed sellout” is the least of his criticisms.

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