Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bush pushes wind, solar power, cutback on oil use

Bush pushes wind, solar power, cutback on oil use
By Caren Bohan

GOLDEN, Colo. (Reuters) - President George W. Bush called on Tuesday for tapping renewable energy sources like wind and solar power to contend with surging energy costs but environmental groups questioned his commitment to easing U.S. oil dependence.

Bush also told employees at a key laboratory for renewable energy research that he regretted "mixed signals" that had led the Colorado facility to announce job cuts earlier this month because of budget cuts.

He visited the National Renewable Energy Laboratory a day after his administration rushed the transfer of $5 million to the lab to enable it to restore the jobs and resolve what could have been an embarrassing situation.

Democrats had cited the job cuts as a sign of lack of real commitment by the government to energy independence initiatives that Bush, a former oil company executive, announced with great fanfare in his State of the Union speech on January 31.

The stop in Golden was the last on a two-day, three-state tour on which Bush pushed his new energy approach.

"I have spent a lot of time worrying about the national security implications of being addicted to oil," Bush said. "The demand for oil is rising faster than the supply of oil. Any time that happens it creates the conditions for what could be price disruption."

In a congressional election year when Democrats are hoping to challenge Republican dominance in both houses of Congress, soaring costs for gasoline and home-heating are pinching Americans' budgets.

The energy initiative is part of Bush's attempt to show he and fellow Republicans are addressing that issue. This week, oil prices rose above $60 a barrel after militant attacks in Nigeria, the world's eighth largest crude exporter.


Many environmental groups say Bush has paid insufficient attention to developing alternative energy sources during the first five years of his presidency.

"Funding for renewable technologies has been gutted since 2001, and only recently has been made a policy priority," Greenpeace said in a statement.

That group and others have criticized Bush for refusing to back stricter fuel efficiency standards for vehicles which they say are needed to significantly cut gasoline demand.

While the Bush administration has required a small boost in efficiency standards for light trucks, environmental groups say more stringent requirements are needed. Gasoline accounts for 40 percent of U.S. daily petroleum demand.

Dave Hamilton, an energy expert at the Sierra Club environmental group, said an energy bill Bush signed last August was a "missed opportunity" to have boosted alternative-fuels research funds further.

He said Bush's latest energy initiatives were "baby steps in the right direction". But he added, "The administration's larger actions have moved counter to the goals of reducing foreign oil dependence."

Addressing the issue of the jobs that had just been restored at the lab, Bush said, "I recognize that there has been some ... let me say, mixed signals when it comes to funding."

"Our mutual desire is to clear up any discrepancies in funding, and I think we've cleaned up those discrepancies," he added.

(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria)