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Bush Pushes for Plan to Reduce Energy Costs

With crude oil prices topping $75 a barrel, President Bush wants Congressional action on a plan he says will reduce energy costs. Opposition Democrats are using record high prices to criticize the president's energy policy, as they look ahead to this year's Congressional elections.

President Bush wants Congress to act on an energy initiative that he says will change the way Americans power their homes, businesses and cars.

He wants more funding for hydrogen fuel cells, which emit no pollution, and are more efficient than gasoline-driven engines. The plan also backs more research into electric hybrid vehicles that he says could allow many drivers to make their daily commute, without burning any gasoline.

"By developing these and other new sources of clean renewable energy, like ethanol, we will continue growing our economy, reduce energy prices and protect our environment, and make America less dependent on foreign oil," said Mr. Bush.

The president is under pressure to do something about higher energy costs at a time of record low pubic approval ratings.

A Washington Post / ABC News poll says 70 percent of Americans say higher gas prices are causing them financial hardship. And most are blaming President Bush with 74 percent disapproving of how he is handling those higher prices.

That is not likely to get better any time soon, with oil industry analysts predicting still higher prices, fueled by concerns about the stand-off over Iran's nuclear program and violence disrupting production in Nigeria.

Opposition Democrats are hoping to capitalize on voter anxiety, with nearly one-third of Democratic Senate candidates staging campaign events this weekend focusing on higher energy costs.

Democrats feel the president is particularly vulnerable on this issue, as both he and Vice President Dick Cheney have worked in the oil sector. In the Democratic radio address, Florida Senator Bill Nelson attacked Bush administration tax cuts for oil producers.

"Americans are frustrated, and sick and tired of billion-dollar giveaways for oil companies, while the price of gas is going through the roof," said Mr. Nelson.

Nelson says President Bush is aware of the problem, but says his words are not backed up with the tough policy changes needed to make a real difference. The Democrat criticized what he says is a Republican focus on more drilling, which he says cannot solve the problem in a country that consumes one-quarter of the world's oil production, but has just three percent of its known reserves.

"We simply cannot drill our way out of this problem," added Mr. Nelson. "We have to take more dramatic steps, including conservation. First, we must confront some powerful interests, including the oil lobby."

Nelson says President Bush must do more to promote the production of synthetic fuel from coal. While Nelson says technology exists to dramatically increase efficiency standards in passenger vehicles, but President Bush is pushing a more modest gain for light trucks.

President Bush continued to push his energy plan on Earth Day with a visit to a California partnership working on hydrogen fuel cells for cars.