U.S. Must 'Get Off Oil,' Bush Says
WASHINGTON – President Bush said Wednesday that the United States has to "get off oil" to reduce dependence on foreign suppliers and declared "it should be obvious" that high demand is creating painful gasoline prices.
Bush's assessment was at odds with that from the 13-nation Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which said before he spoke that it would not put more oil on the global market because crude supplies are plentiful.
OPEC President Chakib Khelil told reporters in Vienna, Austria, that the problems in the U.S. economy were a key factor in the cartel's decision to hold off on any action.
"There is sufficient supply. There's plenty of oil there," he said.
In an address to the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference, Bush said, "It should be obvious to you all that the demand is outstripping supply, which causes prices to go up."
During a Middle East trip in January, Bush urged OPEC to increase production and help ease soaring gasoline prices. Bush also said on Tuesday that it's a "mistake to have your biggest customers' economies slowing down as a result of higher energy prices."
The White House said it disagreed with OPEC's decision to rebuff that request, and that the oil-producing nations themselves could be hurt as well.
"OPEC should not be shortsighted about the economic impact of its production decisions," White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said.
Oil prices surged past $104 a barrel for the first time after the OPEC announcement. Gas prices are running over $3 a gallon, and some analysts expect prices to rise to near $4 a gallon as summer driving picks up.
Bush's speech was aimed at touting his administration's efforts to increase the use of renewable energy sources.
The president saluted those at the conference for their "commitment to renewable energy," then joked that his travel habits aren't the best contribution. "I probably didn't help today when I rode over in a 20-car motorcade," he said.
Democrats roundly criticized the president's record on energy policy.
"The Bush/Cheney administration has paid lip service to renewable energy and backed it up with inadequate and incremental funding support, favored old dirty and unsafe technologies, threatened vetoes of energy bills because they supported renewable energy incentives and mandates, and undermined the science of and the search for solutions to global warming," said a statement from Senate Democrats.
Bush also addressed the ongoing global talks to find a new agreement to fight climate change.
Many nations want firm — and big — greenhouse gas emission-reduction targets that are mandatory, but Bush has opposed that. He favors voluntary targets set by each country for itself and steep reliance on burgeoning energy efficient technologies to get there. Bush also insists that developing countries like China and India that are growing energy guzzlers be subject to any agreement.
In the face of criticism, Bush repeated those positions but declared: "The United States is serious about confronting climate change."
"America is in the lead when it comes to energy independence; we're in the lead when it comes to new technologies; we're in the lead when it comes to global climate change — and we'll stay that way," he said.
He repeated his calls for a clean technology fund to aid developing nations too poor too afford the kind of new technologies that can help them reduce emissions, and for the elimination of trade barriers on environmental technology.
Bush also defended the meetings the U.S. is hosting on a climate change agreement even as the broader United Nations-sponsored process goes forward.
"This is not in lieu of the U.N. process," he said. "It is to enable the U.N. process to become effective."
The president made clear that he considers his approach key to that.
"Should there be an international agreement? Yes, there should be, and we support it," Bush said. But, he added, "No country should get a free ride."