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Group offers plan to reduce U.S. reliance on oil

WASHINGTON—With gasoline prices near all-time highs, foreign conflicts driving up the cost of crude oil and U.S. congressional elections fast approaching, a group of Democratic Party thinkers offered a strategy Wednesday aimed at curbing what President Bush calls America's "addiction" to oil.

The Center for American Progress, led by many former top officials in the Clinton administration, released a plan that calls for at least 25 percent of the liquid fuels consumed by the United States in 2025 to be produced from renewable energy sources.

The strategy seeks to promote cleaner alternative energy sources as a means to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil and to mitigate what scientists warn are clear signs of global warming made worse by gaseous emissions from cars and industries.

The center's Energy Security for the 21st Century plan would:

_Boost government spending on research into ethanol, bio-diesel and next-generation technologies that could convert virtually any plant product into a fuel source.

_Mandate unspecified higher fuel economy standards for automobiles and trucks.

_Require that sources of renewable energy account for 10 percent to 25 percent of U.S. electricity generation by 2025.

_Promote use of liquefied natural gas. This wouldn't reduce dependence on foreign energy sources but it could increase use of a clean-burning fuel.

_Develop an emission credit market that would reward low-pollution power producers and create a system of credit trade-offs to offset dirtier producers. All new coal plants would be subject to this so-called "cap-and-trade system."

The plan also would levy a tax on oil when world prices dip below an unspecified certain point. The price floor would keep oil expensive enough to ensure financial incentives to create alternative fuels.

The tax revenue would go to research and development for renewable and alternative energy sources, and to subsidize home-heating fuels for the poorest Americans.

"I think that would be very attractive if you can count on its holding up through the congressional process," said a skeptical James Sweeney, an energy expert at Stanford University in California. Sweeney suggested that few lawmakers would support keeping oil prices higher than the global price. And he doubted that renewable fuel sources, either in the center's plan or Bush's, realistically could end America's oil addiction.

"It would be a plan where we're still addicted to oil, and I don't think anybody anywhere has come up with a realistic alternative that gets us off oil," Sweeney said.

Severin Borenstein, director of the University of California Energy Institute in Berkeley, agreed, but said he thought the center's goals offer a good start.

"Twenty-five percent would be a huge step. Certainly no one in either party is suggesting anything that would get us near that," he said.

Few issues today are on the minds of American voters more than rising fuel prices. The national average for a gallon of unleaded gasoline stood at $3.00 on Wednesday.

John Podesta, the center's director and chief of staff to President Clinton from 1998 to 2001, said the report was designed to promote discussion about energy issues at a time when Americans want solutions.

"People are hot as hell about the price of gasoline," he said.

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(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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