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HIGH GAS PRICES Bush has ideas but no quick fix



Published: Thu, April 28, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Energy experts said it would be years -- if ever -- before Americans could benefit from the plans.

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

WASHINGTON -- Faced with growing public discontent over high gas prices, President Bush offered some new ideas Wednesday for meeting the nation's energy needs but said he couldn't provide any quick relief.

Speaking at a Small Business Administration conference, Bush hailed nuclear power as part of a long-term solution to the nation's energy challenge and outlined plans to encourage construction of oil refineries and facilities for storing liquefied natural gas. Experts said the proposals might help ease America's fuel pinch in the long run, but wouldn't break the nation's reliance on fossil fuels or foreign oil.

"I fully understand that many folks around this country are concerned about the high price of gasoline," Bush told a friendly audience in a Washington hotel ballroom. "We're doing everything we can to make sure our consumers are treated fairly, that there is no price gouging."

Bush, whose standing in the polls has dropped as the price of gas has soared, has expressed concern about gas costs three times in the past week. On Monday, he encouraged Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to help keep prices down by expanding crude-oil production during a meeting at the president's Texas ranch.

Emergency reserves

But there isn't much he can do about prices at the pump, at least in the short term. He's rejected one idea that might make a quick difference -- releasing oil from the federal government's emergency reserves.

Independent energy experts said it would be several years -- if ever -- before Americans could see any benefit from Bush's proposals.

"There's not much new here," said University of California energy and business professor Severin Borenstein. "The things that are new are not likely to be very successful."

The biggest controversy may erupt over Bush's plan to direct federal agencies to consider letting petrochemical companies convert closed military bases into oil refineries. Critics focused on his pledge to simplify regulations governing the expansion of refineries.

Courts have blocked the administration's attempts to ease a rule that required refineries and coal power plants to add up-to-date pollution controls when expanding a plant.

Refiners say the requirement discourages plant expansion that would boost refining capacity, ease fuel shortages and lower prices. Environmentalists worry that dropping the requirement would lead to more pollution.

Bush also called for a new federal insurance program to compensate companies if they incur expenses from regulatory delays that stall a planned nuclear plant. The insurance would cover the first four plants built under the program. Administration officials didn't provide a cost estimate.




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