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Bush renews call for Congress to pass his energy policy

WASHINGTON—President Bush stepped up pressure Wednesday on Congress to pass his energy plan, saying Americans no longer will tolerate high gasoline prices and inactivity from lawmakers.

The president conceded that his energy plan would do nothing to reduce gasoline prices immediately; any benefits would come later. But he said Congress must act now or face public wrath.

"The American people know that an energy bill will not change the price of gas immediately," he 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."

Bush renewed his call for Congress to have an energy bill on his desk by the legislature's August recess. The Senate is debating a bill and is expected to vote on it next week. The House of Representatives already has passed its version. The president has been seeking the bill since 2001.

Congress' slow pace has annoyed the president, who's taken heat for gasoline prices that spiked in April at $2.27 a gallon for regular unleaded fuel purchased from self-serve pumps.

Prices have dropped since then, with the American Automobile Association reporting the national average price at $2.13 a gallon Wednesday, 15 cents higher than this time last year.

"My advice is they ought to keep this in mind: Summer is here, temperatures are rising and tempers will really rise if Congress doesn't pass an energy bill," Bush said of lawmakers in a speech to the 16th annual Energy Efficiency Forum.

The president's speech took on an added sense of urgency after the global price of crude oil rose again Wednesday by $1, to nearly $56 a barrel, ensuring that high prices at the pump are here indefinitely.

"Here in America, we have become too dependent on the increasingly limited supply of foreign oil for our own energy needs," Bush said. "For many years, most of the crude oil refined into gasoline in America came from domestic oil fields. In 1985, 75 percent of the crude oil used in U.S. refineries came from American sources—and only 25 percent came from abroad. Today, that equation is nearly reversed."

Bush's plan calls for subsidies and tax breaks to increase America's oil-production and refining capabilities, to increase reliance on alternative energy sources such as renewable ethanol and biodiesel and to expand the nation's nuclear power-plant capacity.

It offers a mix of ideas, appealing to both business interests and environmentalists: He wants to give $4,000 tax breaks to people who buy hybrid cars, vehicles powered by rechargeable electric batteries along with gasoline. He also wants to open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska to oil exploration, saying new technology would make it possible to produce a million barrels of oil a day without substantially harming the environment.

John Kilduff, an energy analyst for Fimat, a global brokerage firm, said the president's proposals weren't an immediate fix for America's energy plight, but could reap benefits in the long run, particularly the emphasis on hybrid cars.

"If we can get fuel-efficiency standards up fractionally, that would be huge," Kilduff said. "If you could get the kind of miles per gallon the hybrids offer—50 miles per gallon, opposed to the (national) average, 24 miles per gallon—it would be the equivalent of saving 26 ANWRs a year."

Hybrid sedans average more than 50 mpg, AAA said. Hybrid SUVs average much less.

The rise in gas prices hasn't deterred motorists from holiday travel, according to AAA. Last year, 34.4 million Americans drove to July Fourth holiday destinations, the automobile club reported. This year's holiday projection will be released Tuesday. Justin McNaull, a club spokesman, said AAA expected this year's number to equal or exceed last year's.

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For more information online, go to:

www.whitehouse.gov, for Bush's energy plan

www.fuelgaugereport.com, a AAA site that gives a national gasoline-price average, a state-by-state breakdown of gasoline prices and the cost of a specific driving trip based on the make, model and year of vehicle.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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