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    Bush Administration Pushes Energy Plan

    White House officials hold "town hall" meetings nationwide to solicit questions and comments from residents.

    Top Bush administration officials fanned out across the nation yesterday to reignite interest in the president's long-term energy plan amid falling gasoline prices and growing public concern about the environment.

    President Bush, a former Texas oilman, unveiled two months ago a broad proposal to open the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and other federal lands to oil drilling and boost coal use by power plants.

    In recent days, Bush has sought to emphasize more energy conservation to blunt criticism that his plan focuses on production and would benefit big oil companies that have made large financial contributions to his Republican Party, according to Reuters.

    But the urgency for a national energy issue has declined since mid-May, when average U.S. gasoline prices rocketed to a record $1.71 per gallon. Last week, the nationwide average retail pump price had fallen to $1.44 per gallon.

    Declining gasoline prices are no safeguard against future volatility in prices, Bush said. "It should be clear to the American people that we're dependent upon foreign sources of crude oil when every quarter we worry about whether or not OPEC is going to run the price of crude up," he told reporters.

    Earlier this month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration warned that stronger demand and tighter supplies are quickly depleting global oil inventories. Worldwide stocks were expected to drop to 2.6 billion barrels by September, a level 70 million barrels below normal, the agency said.

    The president also pointed to the ongoing threat of electricity blackouts in California as another reason the nation needs a long-term energy policy, the report said.

    Vice President Dick Cheney, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and Environmental Protection Administration chief Christine Todd Whitman appeared in Pittsburgh; Argonne, Illinois; Euclid, Ohio; and Old Lyme, Conn. yesterday to promote Bush's energy plan.

    White House officials described the sessions as "town hall" meetings where cabinet members would take unscripted questions from the audience.

    Democrats said the town hall events were being staged to salvage a pro-drilling plan that offers little to help the nation's most populous state, California, solve its chronic electricity shortages.

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