Last Friday, Congress finally approved a national energy plan. Supporters contend the bill will provide a diverse mix of fuels, new jobs, cleaner burning coal and the next generation of nuclear reactors. However, it will have little or no impact on today’s high oil and gasoline prices. Lawmakers say that the country will benefit from the bill for the next five or 10 years.

The Senate approved the $12.3 billion legislation 74-26, though some Democrats said they voted for the measure reluctantly because of its cost and its lukewarm response to reducing the country's consumption of oil. The bill’s cost, put at $12.3 billion, is nearly twice the $6.7 billion price tag the White House had sought.

This came a day after the bill breezed through the House and completed the first major overhaul of the nation's energy policies in 13 years. The bill now goes to President Bush for his signature.

A provision with direct and 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.

The bill provides $14.5 billion in tax breaks and potentially billions more in loan guarantees and other subsidies to encourage oil and gas drilling, improve natural gas and electric transmission lines, build new nuclear power reactors and expand renewable energy sources, especially construction of wind turbines.

In addition, it will be a boon to farmers by directing a doubling of corn-based ethanol use in gasoline to 7.5 billion gallons in 2012.

For the first time, utilities would have to meet federal reliability standards for the electricity grid to try to avoid a repeat of the massive 2003 blackout that hit the Midwest and Northeast.

Lawmakers also left out a couple of provisions that were political hotbeds: opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling and they abandoned a provision that would have given the makers of the gasoline additive MTBE protection against lawsuits stemming from the chemical's contamination of drinking water supplies in at least 36 states.

For more information, go to: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee: http://energy.senate.gov/public/ 

House Energy and Commerce Committee: http://energycommerce.house.gov/

Associated Press, Reuters