WASHINGTON – Fifty-one congressional Democrats called on President Bush on Thursday to hold a bipartisan energy summit to find ways to reduce the country's dependence on oil.
They said participants should include representatives "from all facets of life" — from oil companies and automakers to environmentalists, academics and consumer advocates.
"Developing a serious long-term strategy to curb our nation's dangerous dependence on oil is long overdue," the Democrats said in a letter to Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
There was no immediate response from the White House on the summit idea.
Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, addressing auto industry engineers in Detroit, said Thursday the administration is seeking a 22 percent increase in spending for research into clean energy programs and has called for expanded use of ethanol and bio-diesel in motor vehicles.
"If we could convert just one-third of our automobile fleet in the U.S. to clean diesel power, we could save 1.4 million barrels of oil a day," said Bodman.
He said oil imports cost $250 billion last year.
The letter calling for an energy summit was signed by 27 of the Senate's 44 Democrats and 24 House members.
Such a summit "would be designed to produce solutions to move America forward more quickly on a path toward greater energy independence and security," said the Democrats.
The effort to focus on energy issues comes amid concern among both Republicans and Democrats about a winter of record heating bills and expected high gasoline costs in the months leading up to next fall's election.
Bush has said the country has "an addiction" for oil that has to be overcome, and has called for development of alternative fuels. But Democrats maintain the administration has produced little that would significantly reduce oil use.
Congress last summer passed and the president signed what was then described as a comprehensive energy blueprint for the nation. But critics of the legislation have argued it does little to curtail oil consumption or boost domestic oil production.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who along with Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., spearheaded the idea for a summit, said industry leaders including the chairman of Ford Motor Co., have been among those calling for such a gathering.
"We have to seize the momentum to find real solutions," said Kerry.