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News outlets nationwide highlighted President Bush's recent request that U.S. consumers drive less and "be better conservers of energy" in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But most media outlets reporting on Bush's public appeal did not note that it represents a departure from his administration's prior stance on energy conservation.
During a September 26 press conference at the Department of Energy, Bush stated:
[W]e can all pitch in by using -- by being better conservers of energy. I mean, people just need to recognize that the storms have caused disruption, and that if they're able to maybe not drive when they -- on a trip that's not essential, that would be helpful.
But the Bush White House has not always been so willing to advocate energy conservation, as several news outlets noted in response to his request. A September 27 New York Times article reported that the president's remarks "were particularly notable because the administration has long emphasized new production over conservation." To illustrate this point, the Times highlighted a comment made by Vice President Dick Cheney during a 2001 speech: "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it cannot be the basis of a sound energy policy."
On the September 26 edition of ABC's World News Tonight, ABC chief White House correspondent Terry Moran stated, "Until the hurricane struck, conservation had always seemed to be something of an afterthought for this administration." Moran then aired a clip of himself asking former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer a question about energy conservation during a May 7, 2001, press briefing:
MORAN: Does the president believe we need to correct our lifestyles to address the energy problem?
FLEISCHER: That's a big no. The president believes that's an American way of life.
Reinforcing this apparent disregard for energy conservation is the Bush administration's record on fuel economy standards and hybrid technologies. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in October 2004 that the administration has "successfully opposed attempts by Democrats to increase federal fuel-efficiency standards for new cars; and supported only a small increase in the average fuel economy standard for light trucks." More recently, the White House supported several major measures that it claimed would improve conservation. But critics have suggested that the bills and proposals in question do little to curb fuel consumption:
- The Bush administration announced new fuel economy standards for light trucks in August 2005. Under the proposal, from 2008 through 2011 the current single category for light trucks and sport utility vehicles would be broken into six separate groups on based on vehicle size, with higher fuel economy standards for smaller vehicles. The smallest category would be required to achieve 27.8 miles per gallon in 2010 versus 23.5 miles per gallon under the current law, while the largest category, which includes the Hummer H2 and Ford Excursion, would be held to lower standards than those currently in place. In total, the administration proposal is expected to save 10 billion gallons of fuel over the life of the cars sold during that period. But the projected conservation represents a "miniscule change," according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, which claims it is the equivalent of saving about a month's worth of total national gasoline consumption over the course of nearly two decades.
- Bush supported and signed into law the energy bill Congress passed in 2005, which he claimed represented an "unprecedented commitment to energy conservation and efficiency." The legislation provided $14.5 billion in tax breaks intended to revive the nuclear industry, encourage development of coal plants, increase oil exploration and expand refining capacity. But interest groups and Democratic lawmakers criticized the measure for failing to improve fuel efficiency standards. While the bill did provide tax credits to automotive manufacturers that produce hybrid vehicles, it also capped the number of vehicles eligible for the credits.
Although Bush's record on fuel consumption clearly contrasts with his recent request that U.S. consumers "be better conservers of energy," the following television programs, radio shows, and newspapers all highlighted his appeal while failing to mention his administration's prior record on this issue:
- The Washington Post [9/27/05]
- Los Angeles Times [9/27/05]
- USA Today [9/27/05]
- Chicago Tribune [9/27/05]
- CBS Evening News [9/26/05]
- NBC Nightly News [9/26/05]
- CNN's The Situation Room [9/26/05]
- CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight [9/26/05]
- CNN's NewsNight with Aaron Brown [9/26/05]
- Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume [9/26/05]
- National Public Radio's All Things Considered [9/26/05]