WASHINGTON – Record-high gasoline prices have dropped, yet there are fears another surge is around the corner. Larger heating bills this winter are still socking it to American wallets.
Amid those anxieties, President Bush is making it "energy week" in his administration, and he and top Cabinet officials plan to crisscross the country to tout a package of energy initiatives highlighted in last month's State of the Union address.
With the renewed focus on an issue of top concern to Americans, they hope to keep high energy costs from dampening consumer enthusiasm and the country's economic revival -- and to prevent Democrats from using it as a potent weapon in this fall's congressional elections.
"The best way to meet our growing energy needs is through advances in technology," Bush said Saturday in his weekly radio address. "We will pursue promising technologies that will transform how we power our vehicles, businesses and homes -- so we can reduce our nation's dependence on foreign sources of energy."
One of Bush's proposals would expand research into smaller, longer-lasting batteries for electric-gas hybrid cars, including plug-ins. The president will highlight that initiative with a visit Monday to the battery center at Milwaukee-based auto-parts supplier Johnson Controls Inc.
Proposed increased investment in the development of clean electric power sources are the focus of a stop later that day at a solar panel plant in suburban Detroit. The United Solar Ovonic plant in Auburn Hills, Mich., plans to dramatically increase production capacity.
Its parent company, Energy Conversion Devices Inc., is working on hydrogen fuel cells to power cars -- a technology Bush often touts and has proposed supporting with additional federal research dollars but that most experts say will not be ready for two or three decades.
On Tuesday, with a stop at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., the president highlights his proposals to speed the development of biofuels such as "cellulosic" ethanol made from wood chips or sawgrass.
Six Cabinet officers are scheduled to appear at more than two dozen energy-related events in more than a dozen states over the week.
Bush said in his State of the Union address that he aimed to replace three-fourths of the country's oil imports from the Middle East over the next 19 years by increasing spending on research into such renewable fuels as a substitute for gasoline.
But even his own Cabinet members and top aides have acknowledged that, because of the way the global oil markets work, it is virtually impossible to actually replace imports from a specific region.
Increasing the use of nuclear power at home and globally is another piece of Bush's energy package. A broad energy bill he signed last summer provides incentives for building nuclear power reactors for the first time in decades.
Now, the administration is asking Congress for a small downpayment -- $250 million next fiscal year -- to accelerate a decade-long research program into reviving commercial reprocessing of nuclear fuel.
The United States abandoned nuclear fuel reprocessing in the 1970s because of nuclear proliferation concerns. Bush's plan envisions a new approach to reprocessing that its advocates maintain would pose less of a proliferation risk and reduce the amount of radioactive reactor waste.
He also is proposing a new system in which the United States and other countries would sell reactors and nuclear fuel to developing nations. The used fuel would have to be returned and recycled.
The focus on energy is part of an effort in each of the weeks since Bush's State of the Union speech to highlight a different topic. Events for Cabinet members are scheduled to dovetail with the president's emphasis.
Democrats deride the president's litany of initiatives as similar to what he has long pushed and as offering no relief for today's high energy costs.