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Bush ready to release 'optimistic' energy plan

Bush cabinet
Bush, second from right, discusses national energy policy during a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday  

From Ian Christopher McCaleb
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush was set to release an "optimistic" long-term blueprint for U.S. energy policy Thursday, but the plan is likely to face a pitched battle in Congress.

Bush outlined his proposal to his Cabinet late Wednesday afternoon, telling reporters before the meeting his multi-tiered proposal deals with years of government neglect of the national energy situation.

"(The plan) is tough in that it lays out the problems. It is a direct assessment of neglect," Bush said. "But this great nation of ours, because of our technology, our attitude, our adherence to free enterprise, our willingness to conserve, we're going to solve this problem."

Bush said he would call on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate claims of price gouging or "unfair pricing" in gasoline and electricity this summer.

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"We can make sure than any entity will not illegally overcharge," the president said. "So I am calling on the FTC to make sure nobody in America gets illegally overcharged. Should somebody have a complaint, it is the appropriate role of the FTC to look into it."

Former President Clinton and his Energy Secretary Bill Richardson mounted a similar effort late last year, when they asked the FTC to look into allegations of price gouging by the major oil companies when gas prices spiked in the Midwest.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer earlier fended off a volley of questions from the White House press corps about the details of the administration's policy. Fleischer said Bush would divulge the plan Thursday on visits to Minnesota and Iowa.

He did say the plan, documented in a report compiled by a task force led by Vice President Dick Cheney, would closely follow the recommendations Bush first floated on the presidential campaign trail last fall.

"The plan is a reflection of what President Bush has always said were his priorities," Fleischer said. "Our nation has not had a comprehensive energy policy in years, and that has contributed to the sky-high price of gasoline and energy."

Bush's plan, which aims to insulate consumers from high prices while fattening stores of gasoline and other refined oil products, will likely call for the boosting of domestic refining capacity, perhaps by building as many as 40 oil refineries over the next 20 years.

The White House has argued that crude oil, despite its high price, is plentiful, and that gas prices and prices for other petroleum products are high because domestic producers cannot refine their crude supplies quickly enough.

The administration also wants to encourage the growth of the nuclear power industry and exploration of new stores of coal, oil and natural gas -- notably in the now off-limits Arctic National Wildlife refuge. Democrats have vowed to fight that move every step of the way.

Bush has also suggested the $1.35 trillion tax relief regime now under consideration in the House and Senate should be passed quickly so consumers could apply some of that extra money to their energy expenses.

Fleischer found himself explaining that thinking Wednesday, saying that although the government was unlikely to do anything as gas prices continue to rise into the summer, consumers would be able to dull the ache if they start to see more money in their paychecks.

"Tax relief is the answer to many people's problems, because it puts money into people's pockets for them to use for whatever they identify as the biggest problems in their lives," he said. "For some, that might be the high price of gasoline."

Fleischer did divulge the plan would contain 105 distinct recommendations, 42 of which would be based on early "conservation" efforts. The idea, he said, would be to persuade people to conserve energy stores in the short term so supplies would even out.

Other sets of recommendations will cover improving the nation's energy infrastructure -- likely through building new refineries and pipelines.

He hinted the proposals would be weighed toward usage, saying "84 percent" of the energy consumed in the United States comes from the burning of fossil fuels. "The remaining comes from renewables or nuclear power," Fleischer said. "We are a nation that has relied on fossil fuels."

Cheney was on Capitol Hill earlier in the day and gave House Republicans a peek at the proposal. House leaders said they would work to turn it into legislative language and move it as quickly as possible through the chamber.

"We need to look at this in a comprehensive way," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert. "There is no magic wand to wave over this."

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said he hoped an energy bill would be ready for Bush's signature by July 4. The congressional minority, however, is not on board with the Bush plan.

House Democrats announced a plan of their own on Tuesday that calls for increasing oil production in areas that have already been roped off by the federal government for exploration and drilling -- lands that already account for some 89 percent of the nation's untapped reserves.

They also propose more pipelines to move natural gas into the lower 48 from Alaska's North Slope, and would move to hold down price increases that may be put in place by Western electricity providers.

In addition, the Democrats propose a series of tax incentives for construction of energy efficient homes and the purchase of "hybrid" gas and electric automobiles. Those incentives could net individuals as much as $4,000 in annual tax savings. Small businesses would also stand to benefit.

Democrats are wary of Bush's past links to the oil industry, as well as those of Cheney and some key Cabinet members, including Commerce Secretary Don Evans and Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton



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