President Bush issued a vigorous call yesterday for the enactment of his energy plan, arguing that it offers a balanced approach for securing the nation's energy future while warning that "tempers will really rise if Congress doesn't pass" the measure.
Speaking before the Energy Efficiency Forum, an annual meeting of energy industry and government officials here, Bush said that "now is the time to stop the debate and the partisan bickering, and pass an energy bill."
Since early in his first term, Bush's energy agenda has languished, the victim of sharp partisan and regional disagreements over the impact of its provisions. His proposal would open environmentally sensitive areas to oil exploration and offer tax breaks to spur the development of cleaner fuels, while encouraging construction of new oil refineries and nuclear power plants for the first time in three decades.
Taken together, Bush said, the measures would help the United States reverse its growing dependence on foreign energy sources. "People got to understand our dependence on foreign oil didn't develop overnight, and it's not going to be fixed overnight," he said. "To solve the problem, our nation needs a comprehensive energy policy."
Continuing a recent string of combative remarks casting Democrats as obstructionist for opposing much of his second-term agenda as his approval rating among Americans plummets to new lows, Bush said voters want Congress to complete work on the energy measure.
"The American people know that an energy bill will not change the price of gas immediately," Bush said. "But they're not going to tolerate inaction in Washington as they watch the underlying problems grow worse. We have a responsibility to confront problems."
Some Democrats have complained that the energy proposals under consideration in Congress offer too few incentives for conservation and the development of renewable energy sources. Also, energy analysts have said that, even if areas now off-limits to oil exploration were opened to drilling, there may be a temporary spike in production but that the long-term trend of growing dependency on foreign oil would continue.
The full Senate this week began consideration of an energy bill; a separate version of the legislation has already cleared the House. The measures would cost billions of dollars in tax breaks and other incentives. Both chambers have also approved budget resolutions calling for Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to be opened to drilling, but final votes would have to be taken before that is allowed.
Although lawmakers have repeatedly failed to approve energy legislation in recent years, lawmakers are more optimistic this time. Part of the reason is that the Senate bill was jointly crafted by Democrats and Republicans, unlike in previous years when Democrats said they were shut out.
The House bill is tilted more toward providing incentives for traditional forms of energy than the legislation under consideration in the Senate, which seeks more incentives for cleaner-burning forms of energy and renewable energy. Still, some Democrats are seeking, on the Senate floor, amendments designed to boost renewable energy production.
"This bill doesn't go far enough in strengthening our national security, spurring our economy and protecting our environment," said Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). "That is why -- over the next two weeks -- Democrats are going to fight to improve this bill. Democrats have set a goal of reducing imports of foreign oil by 40 percent over the next 20 years."
Environmentalists, meanwhile, say both versions are a costly giveaway to large energy interests and would bring little or no benefit to consumers.
The United States has become increasingly dependent on foreign oil. Last year, the country imported an average of 58 percent of its oil, a percentage that the federal government projects will continue to grow in coming years.
With gasoline prices above $2 a gallon, Bush urged quick action, saying that as Congress continues to debate an energy measure, the problem only grows worse. "The energy bill will help us make better use of the energy supplies we now have, and will make our supply of energy more affordable and more secure for the future," he said.
Bush said he will encourage advances in energy technology among the Group of Eight industrial countries at its meeting July 6 to 8 in Scotland. "When we lower the global demand for oil, Americans will be better off at the gas pump -- and future generations will breathe cleaner air, too," he said.