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Energy Bill Clears Congress

After years of stalemate, Congress on Friday sent President Bush a national energy plan touted by supporters as providing a diverse mix of fuels, new jobs, cleaner burning coal and the next generation of nuclear reactors.

But the bill now ready for President Bush's signature won't stem high energy prices that have been viewed as a growing political concern, both in Congress and at the White House.

The Senate approved the mammoth $12.3 billion legislation 74-26, though some Democrats said they voted for the measure reluctantly because of its cost and its tepid response to reducing the country's consumption of oil — now more than 20 million barrels a day, more than half imported.

The Senate action a day after the bill breezed through the House completed the first major overhaul of the nation's energy policies in 13 years. The White House said in advance of passage that Mr. Bush looked forward to signing it into law, possibly next week.

Under political pressure to do something about the nation's energy problems in light of soaring oil and gasoline prices, Mr. Bush challenged Congress to provide him a bill before lawmakers depart this week on a five-week summer recess.

But even the bill's sponsors acknowledged that their the 1,724-page bill would have little if any impact on today's energy prices or wean the nation away from its thirst for oil.

"We won't have any answers if the question is what are you going to do tomorrow morning about gasoline prices," said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., who led the Senate negotiations with the House in crafting the legislation.

But he said the bill would, indeed, provide financial incentives and federal policies "that we as a nation will benefit from not tomorrow, but for the next five or 10 years."

A provision with direct and more immediate impact on the public expands daylight-saving time by one month, adding three weeks in the spring and a week in the fall, taking it beyond Halloween. The change would go into effect in 2007.

Consumers also will see tax credits for the purchase of hybrid-electric cars and get tax breaks for making energy conservation improvements in their homes.