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Bush turns attention to energy policy

With no relief in sight for sky-high energy prices, President Bush on Wednesday visits a research lab in Ohio to reiterate his controversial vision for energy independence.
/ Source: staff and news service reports

With no relief in sight for sky-high energy prices, President Bush on Wednesday visits a research lab in Ohio to reiterate his controversial vision for energy independence — from opening up some wilderness areas to drilling, to investing in research to clean up dirty coal, America's most abundant domestic fuel.

The president will deliver a speech on energy policy following his visit to the Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus. He's expected to urge Congress to get moving on his energy plan, which includes "clean coal" research as part of a domestic production push.

A second priority, a proposal on power plant emissions, ran into trouble in the Senate Tuesday when a Republican joined Democrats to keep the bill from moving forward.

The energy plan has been stalled since 2001. The most controversial provision is to open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to drilling.

Republicans hope to get around the refuge impasse by removing the provision from the energy bill backed by Bush and attaching it to must-pass federal budget legislation. The strategy is expected to unfold over the next few weeks.

Most Democrats in Congress have echoed environmentalists' views that conservation and renewable energy can do more than drilling on sensitive public lands.

The president, Sierra Club Director Carl Pope said in a statement, is "pushing for more needless and destructive drilling in special places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, instead of increasing America's investment in existing technology to make hybrid and other clean cars, and to generate more wind and solar power."

Pope said a focus on clean energy would created hundreds of thousands of jobs and eventually save families hundreds of dollars a year.

Bush's approach does include investments in renewable energy, but environmentalists don't like the fact that most new funding would be revenues from drilling permits on federal lands.

Environmentalists have also urged the administration to double fuel economy standards for new cars to 40 mpg. "A 40 mpg standard would save more oil than America gets from the Persian Gulf, and more than we would get from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Persian Gulf combined," Pope claimed.

The auto industry counters that most Americans won't want to pay the extra costs — estimated at several thousand dollars — to make that change.

'Clean coal' and power plants
The environmental community is less united on the merits of research into "clean coal" technology. Some groups are strongly opposed, while others like have shown a willingness to explore the technology as long as it really does reduce sulfur emissions, which cause acid rain, as well as emissions of carbon dioxide, a gas that many scientists is contributing to global warming.

Democrats have also been supporters of the research, with the Clinton administration having earmarked hundreds of millions of dollars during its term.

While the United States is increasingly dependent on foreign countries for its crude oil, it has about 270 billion tons of coal — enough to last more than two centuries at current production rates, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Coal-fired power plants generate about half of U.S. electricity, but few new plants have been built in recent years because of uncertainty over federal clean air standards.

Bush also wants to redefine those standards by placing pollution limits on power plants, but allowing operators to trade emission credits.

Environmentalists say that would actually delay badly needed cleanups, and note the legislation backed by the president does not encompass carbon dioxide emissions.

Wednesday morning, the legislation was held up in the Senate environment committee on a 9-9 tie. Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont, a former Republican and now independent, joined Democrats to keep the bill from moving forward to the full Senate.