Bush Outlines Energy Plan

President Bush makes remarks at the Small Business Administrations National Small Business Week Conference in Washington Wednesday, April 27, 2005.
President Bush, facing economic and political damage from soaring gas prices, offered proposals Wednesday to speed construction of nuclear power plants and oil refineries and boost sales of energy-efficient vehicles.

Bush outlined his initiatives in his second energy speech in a week, reflecting growing concern in the White House that high energy prices are beginning to slow economic growth and undercut the president's approval rating.

In advance of the speech, the White House conceded that Mr. Bush's proposals would not offer any relief in the short-term from skyrocketing prices, reports CBS News Correspondent Bill Plante.

The president hammered this point home in his remarks. Speaking to small business leaders, Bush lamented that he was powerless to cut gas prices. "I wish I could," he said. "If I could, I would."

"This problem did not develop overnight and it's not going to be fixed overnight. But it's now time to fix it," he said. Bush said the problem is that energy supplies are not growing fast enough to meet the growing demand in the United States and in other countries.

"See, we've got a fundamental question we got to face here in America," Bush said. "Do we want to continue to grow more dependent on other nations to meet our energy needs? Or, do we need to do what is necessary to achieve greater control of our economic destiny?"

America has not ordered a new nuclear power plant since the 1970s. Bush said that France has built 58 plants in the same period and today France gets more than 78 percent of its electricity from nuclear power.

"It's time for America to start building again," he said.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid called Bush's initiatives "little more than half measures and wrongheaded policies that will do nothing to address the current energy crisis or break the stranglehold that foreign oil has on our nation."

He said Senate Democrats will offer a much larger package of tax incentives — double the $8 billion approved by the House — and funnel more of the money to renewable energy sources and energy efficiency measures.

Bush urged using closed military bases as sites for new oil refineries. The Energy Department is being ordered to step up discussions with communities near such bases to try to get refineries built. He said the United States has not built a new oil refinery since the 1970s.

Bush also called on Congress to provide a "risk insurance" plan to insulate the nuclear industry against regulatory delays if it builds new nuclear power plants. And he endorsed giving federal regulators final say over the location of liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminals. LNG terminal projects have been stymied in some regions by local opposition, even though the need for more LNG imports has been widely accepted.

As he did last week, he called on Congress to give him an energy bill by this summer.