WASHINGTON -- The headline feature of the energy bill President Bush is to sign into law today is the first new fuel-efficiency standards for cars in a generation.
Rep. Bob Inglis, invited by Bush to the bill-signing ceremony, hopes that separate provisions he crafted could have greater impact in the long run.
The energy measure, which the House of Representatives passed Tuesday on a 314-100 vote, authorizes the federal government to give tens of millions of dollars to winners of a new prize aimed at speeding the development and widespread use of hydrogen-fueled cars.
"We can clean up the air, we can create jobs and we can improve the national security of the United States by reducing our energy dependency on foreign fuels," said Inglis, a South Carolina Republican completing his fifth House term.
Separate Inglis provisions, also included in the energy bill, require most federal government buildings and other installations to use energy-efficient lights.
The cost of producing and transporting has slowed the development of hydrogen-powered cars in the United States, as has the weight and size of hydrogen fuel cells for cars.
But Honda, BMW and General Motors are spending billions of dollars on hydrogen vehicle prototypes.
Inglis said his "H-Prize" idea will accelerate momentum toward such cars by establishing prestigious awards carrying large cash payments to winners.
"We want teams of entrepreneurs and inventors pushing themselves," Inglis said.
The House had passed Inglis' hydrogen prize proposal as stand-alone legislation twice -- in June of this year and in May 2006 -- but it stalled in the Senate. His measure was then wrapped into the broader energy bill, which both chambers passed by large margins after protracted debate.
"The fuel-efficiency authorizations in this bill are estimated to save American families close to $1,000 a year at the gas pump," said Rep. Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat and the House majority whip.
Bush said he would sign the broader energy measure even though it split House Republicans in half, with 95 GOP members voting for it and 96 opposing it.
The Senate voted 86-8 last week to pass the energy bill.
The new energy measure quadruples the mandated levels of ethanol and other bio-fuels.
Inglis' provisions direct the Energy Department to award up to $10 million every two years to companies, universities or individuals that develop "transformational technologies" to make hydrogen-powered cars an American mainstay.
Smaller prizes will be given for hydrogen vehicles to meet ambitious performance goals, and for novel ways of producing, storing, distributing and using hydrogen fuel cells or other forms of hydrogen in automobiles.