Bush to Congress: Take 'next steps' in energy legislation

Nick Snow
Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Jan. 29 -- US President George W. Bush commended Congress for passing legislation aimed at reducing US dependence on oil in 2007 and urged federal lawmakers to continue such efforts in 2008 during his seventh State of the Union address.

"To build a future of energy security, we must trust in the creative genius of American researchers and entrepreneurs and empower them to pioneer a new generation of clean energy technology. Our security, our prosperity, and our environment all require reducing our dependence on oil," he said in his Jan. 28 speech to lawmakers, government officials, and guests in the US House chamber.

"Last year, I asked you to pass legislation to reduce oil consumption over the next decade and you responded. Together, we should take the next steps," Bush said.

He urged them to fund new technologies to generate power from coal while capturing carbon emissions, to increase use of electricity from renewable sources and "emissions-free nuclear power," and to continue investing in advanced battery technology and renewable fuels to run motor vehicles in the future.

Bush also asked the 110th Congress to help create a new international clean technology fund to help China, India, and other developing nations get more of their energy from clean sources. "And let us complete an international agreement that has the potential to slow, stop, and eventually reverse the growth of greenhouse gases. This agreement will be effective only if includes commitments by every major economy and gives no one a free ride," he said.

"The United State is committed to strengthening our energy security and confronting global climate change. The best way to meet these goals is for America to continue leading the way toward the development of cleaner and more energy-efficient technology," the president maintained.

'No different'
Most congressional reactions concentrated on other parts of Bush's address. Rep. John E. Peterson (R-Pa.) said he was disappointed that the president did not call for the development of more domestic oil and gas supplies. "It's no secret that I have strongly disagreed with this administration's policy of keeping our abundant natural resources under lock-and-key. Tonight's address from the president was, unfortunately, no different than his venerable position of 'ask the Saudis and [the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries] for more, and nominally encourage conservation,'" he said, following the speech.

Peterson said while he strongly believes the US should invest in alternative and renewable forms of energy, increasing domestic supplies from traditional sources also is part of the answer to the current energy crisis. "As our chief foreign competitors, namely India and China, are purchasing energy that we've traditionally had access to—not to mention increase their own domestic production—America wrongly continues to rely on unfriendly and often unstable countries for its energy supply," he said.

"This was the president's final opportunity to declare to the American people that we should finally break our shackles from foreign nations and move toward energy security by opening up the Outer Continental Shelf for energy production. Sadly, though, the president did not use the evening's occasion to demonstrate leadership on energy security," Peterson said.

"Opening up the OCS would create American jobs and drive down the cost of energy for our manufacturers, our churches and hospitals, and folks living on fixed incomes. While Washington politicians continue to promise and subsidize 'green-collar' jobs, it is my fear that if we do not address our energy crisis sooner or later, blue-collar jobs in America will be few and far between," Peterson said.

IPAA reaction
The Independent Petroleum Association of America released a statement in response to the president's address. IPAA Pres. and Chief Executive Officer Barry Russell said, "President Bush was right to again raise the energy issue in his State of the Union address. Energy costs, security, efficiency and reserves are among the most importance issues facing America and the economy. A solid energy policy that increases American oil and gas production is essential to helping the economy by keeping more petrodollars at work in the US."

Russell said, "In addition to the Bush Administration's proposals to allow oil exploration in some areas of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, we should also open access to natural gas supplies in the mountain states and allow increased exploration and production in the outer continental shelf, where we are known to have decades of oil and gas supplies.

"Our best defense against foreign oil dependency is developing the vast oil and natural gas resources we have here in America. This energy is our true, strategic petroleum reserve, and government policies should encourage its development. The majority of these critical resources, however, remain off limits. Nearly 85% of the nation's offshore resources are restricted by the government for exploration which if developed could replace Persian Gulf imports for the next 59 years. As if this was not enough, clean natural gas in the Intermountain West that is currently off-limits in nonpark, nonwilderness government lands could heat 50 million US homes for the next 60 years," Russell said.

Other signals
While other parts of Bush's address did not specifically mention energy, some signaled how he would respond to legislation that could affect the business. He promised to veto any bill that would increase taxes, for example, a position which led to the elimination of oil and gas taxes that Congress had inserted into the energy bill and that eventually became law in December.

Bush also said he would submit a proposed budget next week for fiscal year 2009 that would terminate or substantially reduce "151 wasteful or bloated programs, totaling more than $18 billion." Bush said, "The budget that I'll submit will keep America on track for a surplus in 2012. American families have to balance their budgets. So should their government."

While the primary focus in Washington will be on passage and adoption of an economic stimulus package, energy-related activities also are scheduled for the rest of this week. US Sec. of Energy Samuel W. Bodman was scheduled to deliver the keynote address at a global biofuels conference at the US Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 29. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on carbon capture, sequestration, and transportation on Jan. 31. At the same time, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on recommendations by the National Surface Transportation and Revenue Study Commission that includes substantially increasing gasoline taxes.

In a joint statement following the address on Jan. 28, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said in a joint statement they hoped the bipartisanship that was shown in preparing an economic stimulus package in the past week was a sign of things to come. "But the president must do more than simply give speeches that promise progress and commit to cooperation. He must work with Congress to make it happen," they said.

"If the president holds fast to the commitment he made to bipartisanship tonight, we can make great progress for the American people this year," Pelosi and Reid said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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