- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 22, 2006

WEST SACRAMENTO, Calif. — With the country facing record oil prices, President Bush yesterday said prices are going to go up in the coming months and warned of a “tough summer” ahead for drivers.

Mr. Bush marked Earth Day by visiting the California Fuel Cell Partnership in West Sacramento and said the two hydrogen fuel-cell-powered vehicles behind him were the future of driving.

“What you are witnessing here is the beginning of a major change in the driving habits of the American people,” Mr. Bush said, adding that he thinks the children of today will soon be taking their driver’s license tests in fuel-cell cars.

Democrats warned that an “oil crisis is coming” and said Mr. Bush hasn’t backed up his promises to reduce dependence on oil, particularly from overseas.

But neither side offered any concrete plans for short-term relief, with Mr. Bush only promising to make sure there is no price gouging.

“We’re watching real carefully to make sure people are treated fairly,” the president said.

In the Democrats’ weekly radio address Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said the president’s diagnosis that the nation is addicted to oil may be accurate, “but his words are not backed up with the tough policy changes needed to make a real difference.”

He said the administration should raise fuel-economy standards far higher than they are now, from 27.5 miles per gallon to 40 miles per gallon for each manufacturer’s fleet of vehicles.

But Ron Bonjean, a spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said it’s Democrats who haven’t matched actions with words and are pointing fingers rather than voting for energy bills Republicans have offered.

Mr. Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, will send a letter tomorrow asking the president to look into price gouging and to issue environmental regulation waivers to help refiners bring more gasoline to the market.

The Senate last year held hearings on high gasoline prices, and the House is expected to hold hearings soon on prices and on the size of the compensation packages for oil company executives such as former Exxon Mobile Corp. chief Lee Raymond, who received a $69.7 million compensation package and a $98 million pension payout when he retired last year.

The fuel-cell demonstration project Mr. Bush visited yesterday is trying to demonstrate the feasibility of hydrogen fuel cells to power automobiles.

The project currently has 134 fuel-cell passenger vehicles and nine fuel-cell buses in operation, along with 22 hydrogen-fuel stations. It wants to place 300 demonstration cars and buses on the road by the end of 2007.

Mr. Bush had special praise for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a fellow Republican running for re-election this year, saying he has made his state a leader in using technology to improve the environment while also keeping the economy growing.

He said the federal government is doing its part, too.

“In the 36 years since the first Earth Day, air pollution in America has been reduced by 50 percent, yet our economy has tripled in size in that time,” the president said.

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