Bush Urges Congress to Pass Energy Bill
WASHINGTON President Bush urged Congress Wednesday to pass legislation that would boost U.S. energy production and keep the country's economy growing and less reliant on foreign energy imports.
In his State of the Union address, Bush pointed out that he sent to Congress four years ago his national energy plan to increase domestic crude oil and natural gas supplies, modernize the electric grid, build more nuclear power plants, develop alternative energy sources and promote energy conservation.
However, lawmakers have been unable to agree on a final energy package.
"Four years of debate is enough. I urge Congress to pass legislation that makes America more secure and less dependent on foreign energy," Bush said.
"I applaud the president for putting the energy bill back up at the top of our to-do list," Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi said.
Bush also called for passage of his "Clear Skies" proposal, that would reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury emissions spewed by coal-burning power plants by 70 percent by 2018.
Environmental groups and Democrats want a faster implementation date, saying 2018 is too far out.
Separately, Bush said his 2006 budget, which will be sent to Congress next week, will have "strong" funding to develop hydrogen-fueled cars, cleaner burning coal and increase ethanol production.
Bush's national energy plan includes opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to drilling, a move opposed by moderate Republicans, Democrats and environmental groups.
The Senate Republican leadership is expected to attach language giving oil companies access to the refuge to budget legislation, which can not be filibustered under Senate rules.
In its drive to pass energy legislation, the Bush administration does not plan to wade into a dispute over the gasoline additive MTBE that threatens to bog down the bill in Congress, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said.
The White House is remaining silent on the contentious issue of whether oil companies that manufactured the fuel additive MTBE should be protected from liability lawsuits for water supplies contaminated by the chemical.
MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, is a suspected carcinogen and has been found in the drinking water supplies of many U.S. communities.
"The priority for the president is to have the energy bill passed," Duffy said in explaining why Bush would prefer to let lawmakers resolve the dispute over MTBE on their own.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican, again insisted this week that oil companies must be protected from such lawsuits because the Environment Protection Agency once required the fuel additive.
But Sen. Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican who heads the Senate energy panel, said the MTBE protection will not be in the energy bill he is writing because it cannot pass the Senate.
MTBE was widely used in the 1990s to meet federal rules for cleaner-burning gasoline. MTBE producers include Lyondell Chemical Co , Valero Energy Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp.
The clean-up of all MTBE in the United States has been estimated to cost as much as $29 billion. The additive has been banned in some states.
The MTBE issue has stymied Bush's efforts for the past two years to secure passage of a sweeping energy bill.