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Pioneer Editorial: Finally an energy bill Bush signs

President Bush will sign today what could be the largest achievement of the 2007 Congress -- a new energy bill that puts America on a path for less reliance on foreign oil.

The president is slated to sign the new energy bill today at the Energy Department, a bill that has taken years to develop, a Democrat Congress to pass and enough Republican influence to have a Republican president accept it and not threaten veto.

The bill, however, does provides new policy that has remained unchanged for three decades. First, it overcomes the long-standing opposition of the nation's automakers by mandating new fuel efficiency standards. It will require an increase in cars, SUVs and light trucks to reach 35 miles per gallon by 2020 -- a 40 percent improvement in fuel efficiency. It's something we've suspected was technologically feasible for years, but not willingly embraced by automakers. The move could save motorists $700 to $1,000 a year in fuel costs.

The new bill also shifts emphasis away from oil to alternative fuels, such as requiring refineries to use 36 billion gallons of ethanol by 2022, a sixfold increase. With research into other materials for ethanol, such as wood waste and switch grass, Minnesota could be a heavy benefactor of a new ethanol industry, one that already has set the pace for Minnesota corn growers.

The bill, however, also promotes conservation by mandating new energy efficiency standards for refrigerators, dishwashers and other appliances, and also sets new standards for commercial and government buildings to save energy, plus phasing in new home lighting standards that eventually will move away from incandescent bulbs which waste energy -- increasing light bulb efficiency 70 percent over today's bulbs by 2020.

In all, proponents believe the new energy standards could reduce U.S. oil demand by 4 million barrels a day by 2030, more than twice the daily imports from the Middle East.

Provisions that would have taken us further in renewable energy standards did not pass, but some sacrifices had to be made to get any kind of a bill to the president's desk that he will not veto. It's an important first step, and should go down as a crowning achievement this year.

It's also a realization that we as a nation need to do something about saving energy and using alternative energy -- not just talk about it.