CRAWFORD, Texas – President Bush traveled to the desert state of New Mexico on Monday to sign a piece of legislation he's been seeking from Congress for nearly four-and-a-half years.
The president signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (search) at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque. Sandia is a U.S. Department of Energy facility managed by Lockheed Martin that specializes in renewable energy development, like wind and solar power, and infrastructure stability and continuity.
The energy bill "is going to help every American who drives to work, every family that pays a power bill and every small business owner hoping to expand. The bill is the result of years of effort. It is the result of good folks coming together, people who made a commitment to deliver results to the American people. This bill launches an energy strategy for the 21st century, and I have really been looking forward to signing it," Bush said.
After touring the facility, Bush gave remarks that touched on energy specifics: alternative fuels, consumer tax credits and "clean" vehicles. The president spoke about how the bill lays out a path to reducing dependence on foreign sources of energy, strengthening the economy and improving the environment.
Specifically, he emphasized the government's support for those who aspire to be more energy-efficient. The bill — at a cost of $12.3 billion over 10 years — gives tax credits to consumers who buy hybrid gasoline-electric cars and make energy-conservation improvements in new and existing homes.
The 1,724-page bill, which has been criticized by conservation groups for doing little to reduce dependency on oil and gas, also gives billions of dollars in tax breaks and loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants, clean coal technology and wind energy. It removes self-regulatory options for utilities, instead requiring them to comply with federal reliability standards for the nation's electricity grid. The goal is to reduce the chance of a massive power failure like the one that struck the Midwest and Northeast in the summer of 2003.
"The bill corrects a provision of the law that made electric liability standards optional instead of mandatory. Most of you probably consider it mandatory that the lights come on when you flip the switch. Now the utility companies will have to consider it mandatory as well," Bush said.
Also, beginning in 2007, the measure extends daylight-saving time by one month — extending the extra hour of light for one week in the spring and three weeks in the fall in the hope of saving 100,000 barrels of oil per day.
Bush was joined in New Mexico by the state's two senators — Republican Pete Domenici (search) and Democrat Jeff Bingaman (search), who are the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairman and ranking minority member, respectively. Bush was also joined by Energy Secretary Sam Bodman and Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Johnson.
Domenici, who was responsible for shepherding the legislation through the Senate with bipartisan support last month, introduced the president before his remarks. He has said the bill would provide financial incentives and federal policies "that we as a nation will benefit from, not tomorrow but for the next five or 10 years."
Calling the bill not just an energy policy, but a national security policy, Bush said he believes the nation must find new ways, besides fossil fuels, to power the economy and the new law will help refocus the nation's energy priorities in that direction.
But with crude oil prices hitting a record high of $63 per barrel on Monday, critics of the bill — as well as its supporters — noted that the bill does nothing to change sky-high energy costs now, a fact the White House has acknowledged. In addition, the bill pays homage to oil companies, say environmental groups.
"The bill keeps America speeding down the wrong road toward more oil consumption, more drilling and more pollution," U.S. PIRG Legislative Director Anna Aurilio said in a statement.
"As oil prices reached another new high today, President Bush signs into law an energy policy that his own Department of Energy says actually increases gas prices," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. "This energy policy is yet another example of Republicans catering to corporate special interests at the expense of the public interest."
During his speech, Bush countered that the bill makes an "unprecedented commitment" to finding alternative energies, and will lead to a greater diversity of fuels for cars and trucks, including through corn-based ethanol and biodiesel, whose use under the legislation is to double by 2012.
"The bill recognizes that America is the world leader in technology and we have got to use technology to be the world leader in conservation," he said. "Energy conservation is not just a private virtue, it's a public virtue."
"Eventually, someone will find some really clever substitute for oil, but I guarantee it won't be the federal government that will do it," National Review editor Rich Lowry told FOX News.
When Congress returns, Domenici is expected to include in the budget process one provision that did not make the final cut in the legislation — opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. A similar maneuver is being planned in the House, although the final strategy is being worked out.
The ceremony at Sandia begins a week of events meant to highlight the president's legislative successes and underscore economic and national security issues.
In coming days, Bush meets at his Texas ranch with his defense and economic advisers and travels to Illinois to sign a highway bill.
FOX News' Trish Turner and Kelly Chernenkoff and The Associated Press contributed to this report.