Gephardt calls for incentives to end dependence on foreign oil

Thursday, January 24th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt on Thursday proposed new tax breaks and other incentives to hasten development of fuel cells and ``environmentally smart'' energy sources and end the nation's dependence on foreign oil.

``The development of alternative energy has the potential to be America's largest growth market and job producer in the next 10 years,'' Gephardt, D-Mo., said in a speech that laid out measures aimed at long-term economic growth.

In remarks prepared for delivery before the Democratic Leadership Council, a group of moderate Democrats, Gephardt touched only briefly on the tax debate unfolding in Congress.

He renewed his criticism of the tax cuts that President Bush won from Congress a year ago, but unlike some Democrats, called for no immediate changes. ``It's my view that we shouldn't be repealing tax cuts in the middle of a recession,'' he said.

Bush has ``taken it off the table,'' he said. ``I think we would be wise not to spend all of our time and energy this year debating an issue that we know will end in gridlock.''

Gephardt, a likely Democratic presidential contender in 2004, urged Bush to convene a bipartisan summit at the White House to tackle the issue of economic growth, then proceeded to outline the steps he would take.

They included an effort to achieve energy independence; improving the educational system; creating a universal pension system that would ``follow a worker'' to whatever job they hold; and making use of new technology

``America should launch an `Apollo Project' to develop environmentally smart, renewable energy solutions,'' he said, noting the United States now depends on foreign oil for 56 percent of its energy needs.

He said the federal government should purchase hybrid cars for its own fleet, and also called for tax credits for consumers who buy them. Longer term, he said Congress should set a goal of ``ultimately converting America's passenger transportation to fuel cell vehicles running on hydrogen, the ultimate `green' energy resource, whose only byproduct is water.''

Gephardt proposed increasing federal research funding for fuel cell research and a tax credit for every family or business that buys fuel cell technology.

He also proposed a tax credit of up to 30 percent for business investment in renewable energy generation, tax breaks to increase energy efficiency in new buildings and tax credits for the purchase of cars or trucks with fuel-saving new technology.

In a slap at the Republicans, Gephardt said his overall approach ``has not been endorsed by the other side.'' He said a GOP-backed bill that cleared the House last year proposed tax breaks aimed largely at oil, gas, coal and other ``big energy special interests'' and included the ``same old tired call'' to open a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

Gephardt said the development of alternative energy sources has the potential to become America's ``largest growth market and job producer in the next 10 years,'' and that scientific advances are just over the horizon that compare with the developments in information technology during the last decade.

``By the year 2020, I believe that 20 percent of our energy production can be achieved through alternative and renewable fuels,'' he said.

In the area of education, Gephardt said the first $10,000 of a student's education cost should be tax deductible.

In comments about a universal pension, Gephardt said it was time to create a system that would follow someone ``from the moment they're born to the moment they cash out.''

He proposed a $500 refundable tax credit for each child born in the United States, ``making sure that each child starts out life right. With 4 million children born each year, it would be an investment worth making,'' he said.