Video: Bush touts conservation

By David Gregory Chief White House correspondent
NBC News
updated 9/27/2005 7:29:26 PM ET 2005-09-27T23:29:26

It took the one-two punch of hurricanes Katrina and Rita to the nation's oil industry to push President Bush in a brand new political direction.

With fuel shortages and price spikes at the pump, Bush is now talking about conservation.

"The storms have caused disruption and that if they're able to maybe not drive ... on a trip that's not essential, that would be helpful," Bush told an audience Monday at the Department of Energy.

It's a stunning departure for a White House that has, for years, dismissed sacrifice.

Vice President Dick Cheney has called conservation a "personal virtue," not a sound energy policy.

Former presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer was once asked whether Americans' heavy energy demands required any lifestyle change. "That's a big no," said Fleischer.

To many, Bush's comments this week recalled another era — the oil shock of the late 1970s and President Jimmy Carter's famous plea, "There is no way that I, or anyone else in the government, can solve our energy problems if you are not willing to help."

Today, President Bush is face to face with another energy crisis.

"What's driving this president more than anything else," says Marshall Whitman, an analyst at the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, "is the fear of American anger over long gas lines and rising energy costs for the winter."

President Bush signed an energy bill this summer that's had no impact on soaring gas prices. Bush has focused on long-term solutions like expanded drilling and refining capacity in the U.S., as well as more dependence on nuclear power.

The president's critics dismiss his plea for conservation as too little, too late, saying the larger priority is more fuel-efficient cars.

"If he'd actually acted to increase fuel efficiency standards for cars in 2001, as he was strongly urged to do,” says Phil Clapp, executive director of the National Environmental Trust, "we would now be saving exactly the amount of oil that we get every year from the Gulf of Mexico."

Whether or not Americans heed the president's call for conversation, the reality is there are no quick fixes to an energy crunch that twin disasters just made worse.

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