President Bush has outlined a series of proposals aimed at boosting energy production in the United States through the construction of new oil refineries and nuclear power plants. The proposals come as the president faces growing public unrest over soaring energy prices.his second energy speech in a week.
The president said lowering energy costs means long-term moves to expand U.S. energy production.
"Our dependence on foreign energy is like a foreign tax on the American people. It's a tax our citizens pay every day in higher gasoline prices and higher costs to heat and cool their homes... This problem did not develop overnight, and it's not going to be fixed overnight," he said.
Mr. Bush is facing mounting criticism over the cost of gasoline, which has reached record highs in the past several weeks. Consumer confidence also fell to a five-month low in April.
His energy proposal encourages oil companies to build new refineries on the sites of closed U.S. military bases. The lack of adequate refining capacity in the United States is often cited as a key reason for high gas prices.
But, Jerry Taylor, the Director of Natural Resource Studies at the CATO Institute, which advocates free market policies, says the proposal misses its target.
"So when you hear that no new refineries have been built in the U.S. since 1976, well that's true. But they've increased production capacity of existing refineries because it's just cheaper to do that than to go out an build a new facility," he said.
Mr. Bush's proposal would also include expanding nuclear power by easing regulations for building new plants. He also suggested tax credits for consumers who buy hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles, and he made a strong call for greater development of alternative fuel sources.
"Technology is the ticket, is this nation's ticket to greater energy independence," President Bush said.
The president called on U.S. lawmakers to pass an energy bill in the next few months. The Bush administration's energy plan has been stalled in Congress for four years. Democrats oppose drilling for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and feel more subsidies should go to renewable energy sources. Republicans want to ensure oil producers receive tax incentives.
Mr. Taylor says both sides have it wrong.
"The shared foundation of both arguments is that we need to subsidize energy companies or companies providing various energy services. Why? With energy prices where they are, we don't need to subsidize anybody in the energy sector," he said. "We don't need to provide any additional incentives than those that already exist with these high prices."
The White House acknowledges that even if all of President Bush's proposals are enacted, they will not provide a short-term fix to high gasoline prices. But after the president promised the United States would reduce its dependence on foreign oil, oil prices fell by more than two dollars a barrel.