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Democrats Celebrate Senate Energy Vote

Senate Democrats celebrated passage of a bill aimed at boosting the use of ethanol and increase gas mileage requirements over a period of decades. The House plans to follow suit as early as next week.

The legislation would require ethanol production for motor fuels to grow to at least 36 billion gallons a year by 2022, a sevenfold increase over the amount of ethanol processed last year. It also calls for boosting auto fuel economy to a fleet average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020, a 40 percent increase over current requirements for cars, SUVs, vans and pickup trucks.

Resistance to the new auto fuel economy standards threatened passage until the final hours. Democratic leaders held off a vote until shortly before midnight as senators were called back to the Capitol to assure the votes needed to overcome a threatened filibuster by opponents of the tougher fuel regulations.

The final vote late Thursday was 65-27.

"This bill starts America on a path toward reducing our reliance on oil," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), proclaimed.

Some Republicans complained that the bill did virtually nothing to increase production of traditional domestic fuels, such as oil and natural gas.

The legislation includes price-gouging provisions that make it unlawful to charge an "unconscionably excessive" price for oil products, including gasoline. It gives the federal government new authority to investigate oil industry market manipulation.

It sets down new appliance and lighting efficiency standards and a requirement that the federal government accelerate use of more efficient lighting in public buildings. The bill also provides for grants, loan guarantees and other assistance to promote research into fuel-efficient vehicles, including hybrids, advanced diesel and battery technologies.

But Democrats had wanted more for renewables than they got. Earlier in the day Reid could not hide his displeasure as Republicans blocked one of the Democrats' top priorities, a $32 billion tax package aimed at boosting renewable fuels, energy efficiency and clean energy programs.

The Republicans didn't like the $29 billion in additional taxes on oil companies that the plan required to pay for the new alternative energy subsidies.

"Big Oil seems to do pretty well here on Capitol Hill," Reid told reporters, making no effort to hide his sarcasm.

Democrats also failed to get a provision that would have required electric utilities to produce at least 15 percent of their electricity from wind, biomass or other renewables after Republicans refused to allow the measure to come up for a vote.

Intense negotiations among a small group of senators produced a compromise on the auto fuel economy matter that emerged as the crown jewel of the Senate-passed bill.

It requires automakers to make a 40 percent increase in the fuel efficiency of their vehicles by 2020 and for the first time puts SUVs, vans and small trucks under the same regulation as passenger cars.

Under the bill each vehicle group must achieve a 10 mpg increase in fuel economy by 2020 with an overall average requirement for a manufacturer's fleet increasing to 35 mpg. Currently cars must meet a fleet average of 27.5 mpg; light trucks - including SUVs and vans - must achieve an average of 22.2 mpg.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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