Bush stumps for energy plan, jobs in West Virginia

Tuesday, January 22nd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BELLE, W.Va. (AP) _ Stumping in coal country, President Bush said Tuesday that passage of his energy strategy is a matter of national security and economic health, and insisted coal would be crucial to weaning the country from foreign fuel dependency.

``In order to become less dependent on foreign sources of energy, we've got to find and produce more energy at home, including coal,'' Bush told hundreds of cheering supporters in an airport hangar near Charleston.

Bush's energy plan, bottled up since last summer in the Democrat-controlled Senate, calls for a new emphasis on clean-burning coal technology. However, his budget proposal to be presented to Congress Feb. 4 keeps funding about the same at about $150 million for the President's Clean Coal Power Initiative, an administration official said.

Some environmentalists doubt that new technology can make coal a significantly less polluting. Bush said such skeptics ``must not have much faith in the technology that's coming on line.''

``I don't believe we can be independent as a nation unless we've got a constructive coal policy, and so I ask Congress once and for all to pass comprehensive energy plan including exploring for natural gas in the state of Alaska so we can be less dependent,'' Bush said.

``This is just as much of a jobs program as a national-security program, folks, and it's about time Congress skips all the politics and focuses on what's right for the American people,'' he said. Congress returns from a recess on Wednesday.

Bush also defended the $1.35 trillion, 10-year income tax cuts he enacted last year, charging anew that the Democrats who would postpone them offer ``the wrong prescription.''

And he said increased trade would kick-start the economy. Bush is seeking expanded powers to negotiate trade pacts, but the Senate has not yet put the matter to a vote.

``I'm asking Congress to keep in mind one word: jobs,'' Bush said.

Bush was emphasizing his energy plan on a day when Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., was unveiling competing proposals in Washington.

Kerry's plan would raise fuel-economy standards for cars, offer tax incentives for hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles and more energy-efficient homes and invest in mass transit, a spokeswoman said. It would seek to make such energy sources as wind, solar and geothermal provide 20 percent of the nation's electricity.

The White House had not seen the Kerry proposal, which was coming later Tuesday in a speech.

``Certainly the president welcomes the opportunity to engage in a productive debate on energy policy,'' White House spokesman Claire Buchan said.

Later Tuesday, Bush was touring a Charleston heavy machinery distributor, the Cecil I. Walker Machinery Co., which sells and services Caterpillar equipment and employs more than 550 people in West Virginia and Ohio. There he was addressing bureaucratic red tape that can hamper job creation, aides said.

``Policy makers in Washington must eliminate obstacles and take steps to expand opportunity,'' Bush was to tell workers.

Over the past year, West Virginia's economy lost 4,400 jobs, mostly in manufacturing, trade and construction, though its unemployment rate of 4.5 percent is below the national rate of 5.8 percent.

As part of his economic stimulus plan, Bush seeks the repeal of the corporate alternative minimum tax and accelerated depreciation of tax write-offs for businesses.