Bush Calls for Development of More Nuclear Power
By J.R. Pegg
WASHINGTON, DC, April 28, 2005 (ENS) - Amid increasing concern that high gasoline and energy prices are harming the U.S. economy, President George W. Bush on Wednesday proposed a series of new initiatives to boost domestic energy production, including measures to expedite construction of new nuclear power plants and oil refineries.
Bush said the proposals will help curb the nation’s growing dependence on foreign oil, but acknowledged he can do little to provide consumers immediate relief from rising gas prices.
"If I could, I would," Bush said in a speech at the Small Business Administration's National Small Business Conference.
Bush said the nation’s "fundamental problem" is that the supply of energy is not growing fast enough to meet the growing demand, in particular given the soaring increases in consumption abroad.
"This problem did not develop overnight, and it's not going to be fixed overnight," he said. "But it's now time to fix it."
Bush urged construction of new nuclear power plants and touted the technology as "one of the safest, cleanest sources of power in the world."
"A secure energy future for America must include more nuclear power," Bush said.
The nation’s 103 nuclear plants provide some 20 percent of its total electricity, but no new plant has been ordered since 1973
"It's time for America to start building again," said Bush, who blamed regulatory uncertainty for discouraging new plant construction.
The president’s new proposal calls on the U.S. Energy Department to expedite the licensing process for new plants and on Congress to give the nuclear industry "risk insurance" against regulatory delays.
Bush pledged international cooperation on advanced nuclear technologies, but did not address the problem of where to put the country's high level nuclear waste. The Yucca Mountain Project to construct a geologic repository on the Nevada Nuclear Test Site is bogged down in the licensing process.
"With these technologies, with the expansion of nuclear power, we can relieve stress on the environment and reduce global demand for fossil fuels," Bush said. "That would be good for the world, and that would be good for American consumers, as well."
Bush urged the Congress to pass the energy bill, which has repeatedly stalled in the Senate because of concerns about the cost of the legislation, as well as provisions to allow drilling within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and to grant manufacturers of the fuel additive MTBE protection from litigation.
The House passed an $8.6 billion version of the legislation last week that includes both the ANWR drilling provision and the MTBE liability waiver.
"It's time for the United States Senate to act," Bush said. "And then it's time for them to get together and iron out their differences and get me a bill so I can sign."
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said Bush’s proposals amount to "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."
The president reiterated his support for drilling in the Arctic refuge and said new technologies will allow development with "almost no impact on land or local wildlife."
"Developing this tiny section of ANWR could eventually yield up to a million barrels of oil per day," Bush said.
But a report by the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration undermines the president's optimism and predicts there is little chance ANWR will yield one million barrels per day or have any real effect on oil prices, even in the year of peak production.
Environmentalists say the president is also understating the environmental impact of drilling in the refuge.
"Industry’s claim that the 'footprint' of oil production would amount to 2,000 acres is based on misleading math that only accounts for the area where oil production facilities actually touch the ground, and excludes gravel mines, roads, and pipelines, except their posts," said The Wilderness Society's Drew McConville.
In Wednesday’s speech Bush recommended easing regulatory burdens on the oil industry to expedite expansion of existing oil refineries and construction of new ones.
The last new U.S. refinery was built in 1976 and refinery capacity is near 100 percent. The issue of refinery capacity arose during Bush's meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah earlier this week.
Strict environmental regulations have hampered expansion and new construction, according to the president, and forced additional imports of refined gasoline.
"To encourage the expansion of existing facilities, the EPA is simplifying rules and regulations," Bush said. "I will direct federal agencies to work with states to encourage the building of new refineries - on closed military facilities, for example - and to simplify the permitting process for such construction."
Industry executives welcomed the president's proposal and called on the federal government to ease permitting delays in order to boost the economic attractiveness of new investment in refining.
"Increased U.S. refining capacity, whether in the form of additional capacity at existing sites, or through new grassroots refineries, would help increase the supply of domestically-manufactured petroleum products," said Bob Slaughter, president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association.
Critics blasted Bush for focusing on the supply side of the energy equation.
"The real pity is that the President has adamantly opposed the one initiative that could really make a difference to reduce our dependence on foreign oil – setting significantly better fuel economy standards," said Clean Air Watch President Frank O’Donnell.
Bush called for increased domestic natural gas production, but also recommended steps to boost imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG), including a request for Congress to grant Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authority to choose sites for new LNG terminals.
"Federal agencies must expedite the review of the 32 proposed new projects that will either expand or build new liquefied natural gas terminals," Bush said. "In other words, there's projects on the books, and we're going to get after the review process."
The energy bill passed last week by the House contains a provision to give increase federal oversight of LNG siting, but the issue sparked fierce debate and is likely to draw close scrutiny in the Senate.
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