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Bush Talks of Energy Technology at Small Business Conference

President Bush spoke to an audience of small-business leaders and took the opportunity to promote a comprehensive energy policy that includes the Nuclear Power 2010 and Clear Skies initiatives. In a speech that focused on petroleum, some other sources of energy -- hydrogen, wind, and energy efficiency -- also earned mentions.

It's National Small Business Week, and President Bush spoke to small business leaders in Washington, D.C. yesterday. After talking about small business for a few minutes, Mr. Bush turned his attention to energy policy.

Oil clearly remains the form of energy at the top of the President's agenda. In a paradoxical twist he emphasized the need to reduce the country's dependence on foreign energy, and then asked Congress to streamline the building of import terminals for liquefied natural gas.

Unlike recent energy speeches, the President spent considerable time discussing that other form of energy: electric power.

In large part, Bush was telling small businesses what they wanted to hear.

"Technology is the ticket, is this nation's ticket to greater energy independence," the President said. "And that's what I want to talk about today."

As they might say in Texas, the proof is in the pudding.

While he mentioned biodiesel, wind energy, hydrogen fuel cells, and even solar power, Bush's emphasis was primarily on positioning nuclear power and coal gasification as high-tech solutions to the nation's major energy problems.

"Nuclear power is one of the safest, cleanest sources of power in the world, and we need more of it here in America," Bush said. He promoted the Nuclear Power 2010 Initiative, a seven-year, $1.1 billion effort to streamline the permitting and construction process and start building new nuclear power plants by the end of the decade. He also introduced the concept of federal risk insurance to protect the builders of the first four new nuclear plants against regulatory delays.

Risk insurance is essentially a guaranteed loan program, an analyst for the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center told CNN after the speech. If the nuclear plants do not make money, he explained, then taxpayers will be left holding the bag.

Bush went on to commend Europe for their emphasis on nuclear power, noting that since the 1970s, France has built 58 plants, while none were built in the U.S. "And today," Bush said, "France gets more than 78 percent of its electricity from safe, clean nuclear power."

He did not mention that several European countries have committed to phase out nuclear power in favor of renewable sources. News analysts later pointed out a United Nations report on the nuclear exodus of large countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden. France is in fast catch-up mode in wind energy development.

Coal, Bush said, is America's most abundant energy source. He promoted the Clear Skies initiative, a plan to encourage the development of new technologies that remove virtually all pollutants from coal-fired power plants. Roughly half the power generated in the U.S. is produced by burning coal, and many power plants still have not been upgraded to meet pollution standards set decades ago.

"To make cleaner use of this resource, I have asked Congress for more than $2 billion over 10 years for my coal research initiative," Bush said. "To achieve greater energy dependence, we must put technology to work so we can harness the power of clean coal."

The President called hydrogen fuel cells one of the most promising new sources of energy.

"Two years ago my administration launched a crash program called the Hydrogen Fuel initiative," he said. "We've already dedicated $1.2 billion over five years to this effort to develop hydrogen-powered fuel cells."

He also mentioned a combined $1.9 billion in budget requests for renewable energy technologies including wind, residential solar heating, landfill gas and biomass.

Before concluding, Bush acknowledged that energy conservation is an essential step toward being energy independent. (For those who distinguish between conservation and efficiency, Bush spoke of the former but used examples of the latter.) He cited the steel and paper industries' increased efficiency in the past 30 years.

"Technological advances are helping develop new products that give our consumers the same and even better performance at lower cost by using less energy," he said, referring to examples such as high-efficiency appliances and light bulbs, advanced insulation, and energy-efficient windows.

Grid automation also found its way into this speech. Bush said, "As we conserve energy at home and on the road, technology will help us deliver it more efficiently. New technologies such as superconducting power lines can help us bring our electrical grid into the 21st century, and protect American families and businesses from damaging power outages."

"The electricity title is an important part of the energy bill," he added. "As a matter of fact, a lot of which I've discussed so far is an important part of the energy bill that needs to get passed by the United States Congress before August of this year. The House acted, and I appreciate the leadership in the House. Now it's time for the United States Senate to act. And then it's time for them to get together and iron out their differences and get me a bill so I can sign."