By BILL STRAUB
Scripps Howard News Service
June 15, 2005
Appearing before the 16th Annual Energy Efficiency Forum, Bush acknowledged that the United States has been slow in responding to its energy needs and asserted that quick steps are necessary "for the sake of national security and for the sake of economic security."
"Today, millions of American families and small businesses are hurting because of higher gasoline prices," Bush said. "If you're trying to meet a payroll, or trying to meet a family budget, even small increases at the pump have a big impact on your bottom line. For the sake of American families and American1 workers, this country must take action now to deal with the causes of rising gasoline prices."
Bush's remarks came a day after the Energy Information Administration reported that pump prices edged higher for the second consecutive week, creeping to an average $2.13 a gallon nationally. That's up 14.5 cents from a year ago.
The president has been pushing for a national energy policy since assuming office more than four years ago, but differences over the best ways to meet the nation's needs have slowed the legislative response. He is pressing lawmakers to hand him legislation before the August recess.
The Bush plan, among other things, calls for drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a proposition bitterly opposed by environmental interests. Opponents also maintain the administration package doesn't go far enough in promoting renewable energy sources, relying instead on funding programs that promote clean-coal technology that are considered ecologically hazardous.
The House has adopted one version of the legislation. The Senate is debating the plan, approving a provision Wednesday that would require refiners to produce 8 billion gallons of ethanol a year, a move that agricultural interests maintain will reduce oil needs by 2 billion barrels.
Bush told the forum that rising gas prices are the result of increased global demand, particularly in rapidly growing economies like India and China. Only about 35 percent of the crude oil refined in the United States is domestically produced, compared with 75 percent in 1985.
"Our dependence on foreign oil is like a foreign tax on the American Dream, and that tax is growing every year," Bush said. "My administration is doing all we can to help ease the problem. We're encouraging oil-producing countries to maximize their production, so more crude oil is on the market to meet the demands of the world. And we're going to make sure that consumers here at home are treated fairly. There's not going to be any price-gouging here in America."
Bush acknowledged that whatever plan emerges won't have an immediate impact on pump prices, but he said American consumers won't "tolerate inaction in Washington as they watch the underlying problems grow worse. We have a responsibility to confront problems."
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois responded that the president's plan isn't sufficiently ambitious and that the administration is "running on empty" when it comes to the nation's energy security. Democrats are pushing an agenda with a goal of reducing oil imports by 40 percent by 2025 - a savings of 7.64 million barrels a day.
"The Democrats believe a dramatic reduction in dependence on foreign oil is crucial to our nation's future," Durbin said. "We have set a national priority that will make America more secure and more energy independent."
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