February 21, 2006

Bush pushes renewable energy use

By Caren Bohan

GOLDEN, Colo. (Reuters) - President George W. Bush called
on Tuesday for tapping renewable energy sources like wind and
solar power to contend with surging energy costs but
environmental groups questioned his commitment to easing U.S.
oil dependence.

Bush also told employees at a key laboratory for renewable
energy research that he regretted "mixed signals" that had led
the Colorado facility to announce job cuts earlier this month
because of budget cuts.

He visited the National Renewable Energy Laboratory a day
after his administration rushed the transfer of $5 million to
the lab to enable it to restore the jobs and resolve what could
have been an embarrassing situation.

Democrats had cited the job cuts as a sign of lack of real
commitment by the government to energy independence initiatives
that Bush, a former oil company executive, announced with great
fanfare in his State of the Union speech on January 31.

The stop in Golden was the last on a two-day, three-state
tour on which Bush pushed his new energy approach.

"I have spent a lot of time worrying about the national
security implications of being addicted to oil," Bush said.
"The demand for oil is rising faster than the supply of oil.
Any time that happens it creates the conditions for what could
be price disruption."

In a congressional election year when Democrats are hoping
to challenge Republican dominance in both houses of Congress,
soaring costs for gasoline and home-heating are pinching
Americans' budgets.

The energy initiative is part of Bush's attempt to show he
and fellow Republicans are addressing that issue. This week,
oil prices rose above $60 a barrel after militant attacks in
Nigeria, the world's eighth largest crude exporter.


Many environmental groups say Bush has paid insufficient
attention to developing alternative energy sources during the
first five years of his presidency.

"Funding for renewable technologies has been gutted since
2001, and only recently has been made a policy priority,"
Greenpeace said in a statement.

That group and others have criticized Bush for refusing to
back stricter fuel efficiency standards for vehicles which they
say are needed to significantly cut gasoline demand.

While the Bush administration has required a small boost in
efficiency standards for light trucks, environmental groups say
more stringent requirements are needed. Gasoline accounts for
40 percent of U.S. daily petroleum demand.

Dave Hamilton, an energy expert at the Sierra Club
environmental group, said an energy bill Bush signed last
August was a "missed opportunity" to have boosted
alternative-fuels research funds further.

He said Bush's latest energy initiatives were "baby steps
in the right direction." But he added, "The administration's
larger actions have moved counter to the goals of reducing
foreign oil dependence."

Addressing the issue of the jobs that had just been
restored at the lab, Bush said, "I recognize that there has
been some ... let me say, mixed signals when it comes to

"Our mutual desire is to clear up any discrepancies in
funding, and I think we've cleaned up those discrepancies," he

(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria)