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President to Sign Energy Bill in New Mexico Today

Out of deference to the chief Senate negotiators on the energy bill, Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, President Bush will sign the sweeping energy bill into law on Monday (Aug. 8) at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM.

"Before we put the energy bill together, President Bush promised me that he would sign it in New Mexico. I'm pleased...that he has kept that promise," said Domenici, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, last week. No further information on the timing of the signing event or who will participate was available.

Speaking to a group of conservative state legislators last Wednesday, Bush called the $14.5 billion comprehensive energy bill passed by Congress in late July "a good piece of legislation."

Following years of work to negotiate a bipartisan bill, "I'm proud to sign it next week in New Mexico," he told a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council in Grapevine, TX. "I told the United States Congress this country needs to develop an energy strategy. We should have done that 10 years ago. We should have developed a strategy that would help us diversify away from foreign sources of oil."

The sweeping bill, which is the first overhaul of the national energy policy in 13 years, "encourages domestic production," promotes conservation and "recognizes over time we must diversify away from our dependence on hydrocarbons," Bush said. "That's why we're now promoting nuclear energy. It makes sense for this county to use safe, clean nuclear power."

The measure (HR 6) also "modernizes the electricity grid and gets rid of old laws that prevent utilities from being able to raise money efficiently in the capital market," he said.

The bill is a significant victory for Bush, who has been pressing for a national energy policy since he first took office in early 2001. He will sign the measure into law even though its fails to deliver some key items, such as drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), and offers oil and gas producers more tax incentives than he would prefer.

Although ANWR did not make it into the energy bill, the matter is not dead. The issue is likely to be raised as part of the budget reconciliation process when the Senate returns from its month-long recess after Labor Day. The budget blueprint directs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to come up with a way to save $2.4 billion. The panel is expected in September to report back legislative language that authorizes exploration in the Arctic refuge. The ANWR issue would face better odds of being passed by the full Senate, given that budget issues cannot be filibustered.

If ANWR is eventually opened, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) in a recent analysis projects that Alaska oil production would be 940,000 barrels per day (154%) higher in 2025, and world oil prices would be approximately 57 cents per barrel lower.

But the net impact of opening ANWR on domestic natural gas production would likely be small due to the fact that not all of it would be marketable, the EIA said. "The opening of the coastal plain of ANWR to oil and natural gas development is expected to increase natural gas production for lease and plant fuel use, not for marketing to the lower 48 states."

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