Monday, August 8, 2005

President Bush yesterday signed a sweeping energy bill that he said would spur construction of nuclear-power plants in the U.S. for the first time in a generation.

“America has not ordered a nuclear plant since the 1970s,” Mr. Bush told an audience in New Mexico before signing the legislation.

“With the practical steps in this bill, we will start building nuclear-power plants again by the end of this decade,” he said.

To that end, the legislation offers federal risk insurance to the first six utilities that build nuclear-power plants. It’s one of many incentives aimed at decreasing the United States’ dependence on foreign energy.

But the legislation had been stripped of a measure that would have opened oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Republicans removed the measure to prevent a Democratic filibuster and plan to reintroduce it next month as part of a budget procedure that is not subject to filibusters.

Even without the ANWR provision, the new energy law was denounced by Democrats.

“The bill signed today by the president does not do nearly enough to put America soundly on the path towards energy independence,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “Nor will it relieve customers from skyrocketing costs.”

But Mr. Bush, who signed the law as the cost of crude oil reached a new high of more than $63 per barrel, said the measure is designed to curtail energy costs in the long-term.

“This bill is not going to solve our energy challenges overnight,” he said at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M.

“Most of the serious problems, such as high gasoline costs, or the rising dependence on foreign oil, have developed over decades,” he said. “It’s going to take years of focused effort to alleviate those problems.”

The nation’s dependence on foreign energy has increased from 28 percent before the 1973 Arab oil embargo to 60 percent today. Yesterday’s legislation includes a multitude of measures aimed at reversing that trend, including steps to increase energy conservation, efficiency and use of alternative power sources.

“If you own a home, you can receive new tax credits to install energy-efficient windows and appliances,” Mr. Bush said after touring a solar-power facility. “If you’re in the market for a car, this bill will help you save up to $3,500 on a fuel-efficient hybrid or clean-diesel vehicle.”

The new legislation also increases funding for reducing air pollution from coal, the fuel source for more than half the nation’s electricity. There are also tax incentives to encourage the construction of natural-gas pipelines.

No new nuclear-power plant has been built since 1973, in part because of increased regulations, environmental protests and liability concerns, but Mr. Bush said now is the time for a resurgence in nuclear power.

“Of all our nation’s energy sources, only nuclear-power plants can generate massive amounts of electricity without emitting an ounce of air pollution or greenhouse gases,” he said. “And thanks to the advances in science and technology, nuclear plants are far safer than ever before.”

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