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Bush touts technology to solve energy issues

Calls for tax breaks for hybrid cars, more nuclear power plants

WASHINGTON -- President Bush called for construction of more nuclear power plants and urged Congress yesterday to give tax breaks for fuel-efficient hybrid and clean-diesel cars. He also said he was powerless to bring down high gasoline costs.

Contending the nation does not have enough energy supplies to keep pace with demand, Bush said technology will provide the answer in the long run by allowing development of more domestic energy sources.

''Technology is the ticket," said Bush, calling today's tight energy markets ''a problem that has been years in the making" that will take time to resolve. He said he was determined to spur development of more nuclear power, coal, oil, and renewable energy and again called on Congress to provide him with a national energy agenda.

''This problem did not develop overnight, and it's not going to be fixed overnight. But it's now time to fix it," Bush told a group of small-business owners in his second speech about energy in a week.

The high cost of gasoline, followed by a winter of record heating bills, has begun to have economic and political fallout.

The president said he knows ''many people are concerned" about gasoline prices, which now average more than $2.20 a gallon nationwide, but he said he can't do anything about it.

In 2000, when he was seeking the Republican nomination for president and oil was nearing $28 a barrel, Bush criticized the Clinton administration for high fuel prices and said the president must persuade oil-producing nations to drop rates.

Some congressional Democrats have called on Bush to use the government's emergency oil reserves to try to force down crude prices, or at least stop diverting oil into the reserve. The White House repeatedly has rejected such a move, arguing the reserve is only for addressing supply disruptions and should be filled to capacity.

The president did not mention the reserve in his remarks yesterday. Instead, he sought to focus on what senior administration officials acknowledge are long-term fixes aimed at reducing US reliance on oil imports

Last year imports accounted for nearly 58 percent of the 20.5 million barrels of oil used daily, according to the Energy Department. Only about a third of the country's oil came from imports in 1973, when the Arab oil embargo prompted long lines at gas stations.

Bush called for building more nuclear power plants and refineries, saying that industry needs to be assured that such facilities can be approved without lengthy permit reviews. He also called for Congress to enact $2.5 billion in tax breaks over 10 years for people who buy gas-electric and clean-diesel automobiles.

The last US nuclear plant to open was in 1996, when the Tennessee Valley Authority opened its Watts Bar plant, 23 years after construction started. Bush said that France has built 58 plants since the 1970s and today France gets more than 78 percent of its electricity from nuclear power.

Bush urged using closed military bases as sites for new oil refineries. The Energy Department is being ordered to step up discussions with communities near such bases to try to get refineries built. He said the United States has not built a new oil refinery since the 1970s.

The last major US oil refinery was built in 1976. Strict pollution controls and community opposition to refineries make it nearly impossible for oil companies to build more, oil specialists say.

The president directed the federal agencies to work with communities to see whether refineries can be built on closed military bases, and he called on Congress to provide ''risk insurance" to protect companies against regulatory delays.

Since 1973, Bush said, more than 35 nuclear power plants have been stopped ''because of bureaucratic obstacles." Nuclear power accounts for 20 percent of US electricity production.

While Bush lamented America's heavy reliance on foreign energy, he also called for aggressive expansion of imports of liquefied natural gas. There are 32 proposed LNG import projects on the books, and federal regulators ''must expedite their review," Bush said. Four import facilities operate in Massachusetts, Georgia, Maryland, and Louisiana.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada called Bush's initiatives ''little more than half-measures" and said Senate Democrats will offer their own energy package.

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