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Bush urges clean coal technology for electricity

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- President Bush on Thursday renewed a call for U.S. coal producers to develop clean technology that will increase the nation's competitiveness in the world market.

"In order to be economically competitive, we must have a reliable supply of electricity, and there is no more reliable source of electricity than coal," Bush said. "Coal is affordable and available right here in the United States of America."

Bush, in the waning days of his second term, insisted he is "sprinting to the finish line" as he reinforced his administration's energy policies in a speech before coal industry leaders gathered at The Greenbrier resort for the annual meeting of the West Virginia Coal Association.

Members of the Charleston-based group represent more than 90 percent of the underground and surface mines in West Virginia, which ranks second in the nation in annual coal production behind Wyoming, according to the Energy Information Agency. The state's 601 mines produced 158.8 million tons of coal last year, according to the association that promotes coal as a reliable energy source to help the United States achieve energy independence.

Bush said achieving energy independence is a challenge, but a real possibility.

He said dependence on foreign oil can be reduced only by paying for increased research and development of diversified energy sources, such as biodiesel fuel and cellulosic ethanol, and pursuing more efficient ways to harness wind and solar power. He repeated his challenge to lawmakers to vote in favor of offshore and Alaskan oil drilling before they adjourn for the summer recess.

"We need to send a signal to the world that the U.S. has an aggressive policy," he said. "It's in our national security (interests) to get our own oil."

The president reminded the audience that no oil refineries or nuclear power plants have been built in the country for three decades. He said he favors relaxed regulatory guidelines to stimulate growth in those areas, noting that "Congress can fix it."

"Nuclear power is a zero-emission fuel, but it's hard to get a plant built because of excessive regulations and lawsuits," he said.

Bill Raney, president of the 93-year-old trade association, called Bush's visit "one of the proudest moments" in the organization's history.

"He is the voice of reason inside the Beltway," Raney said.

Coal producers appeared energized by the president's speech, given two days after Upper St. Clair-based Consol Energy announced it will build an $800 million coal gasification plant in Benwood, south of Wheeling. The plant that will convert coal to gas and produce methanol for the chemical industry will be a joint venture with Houston-based Synthesis Energy Systems Inc. through a new firm called Appalachia Fuel LLC.

Bush peppered his remarks with jokes about his approaching "retirement," but grew serious when he announced what he called "good news" about the nation's slight economic growth -- 1.9 percent -- for the second quarter of the year. He predicted a stronger third quarter as the result of $92 billion in economic stimulus payments given to taxpayers.

He said there is no single solution to resolving the nation's energy issues and economic problems. Still, he said Americans should remain "optimistic and hopeful."

"America is still a place where people can go from nothing to something," Bush said. "This is a compassionate, decent, fantastic country."

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