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Gasoline prices may have dropped, but that doesn't mean the energy crisis is over - nor that we should abandon efforts to make the United States less dependent on outside sources of oil, a Bush Cabinet member told an audience Monday in DuPage County.
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, during a question-and-answer session with 200 suburban residents at Argonne National Laboratory near Darien, acknowledged this spring's energy problems had somewhat subsided.
But he likened the situation to the movie "Groundhog Day," in which comedian Bill Murray lived the same day over and over.
"The same kind of pattern happens with (gas prices)," Abraham said. "When the prices drop, people think we are done talking about it. Then they go up again. We've done that too many times."
Abraham's talk was one of six events held nationwide Monday aimed at sparking support for President Bush's long-term energy plan. Five other top Bush officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, attended similar events across the nation.
Complaints about soaring energy costs reached a fever pitch in mid-May, when the average U.S. gas price shot to $ 1.71 per gallon. Last week, however, that average had dropped to $ 1.44 per gallon.
Bush, a former oil executive, unveiled his broad plan two months ago. The 105-point proposal includes plans to open an Alaskan wildlife refuge and other federal lands to oil drilling and increase coal use by power plants.
The president's promises to preserve as much of the Alaskan refuge as possible have not pacified environmental groups that contend Bush will sacrifice the area to benefit oil companies.
"I don't trust him," said Westmont resident Cammie Podgornik, who protested the plan outside the meeting. "His loyalties are to his oil buddies first. The environment isn't even a distant second."
Abraham, however, never mentioned Alaska drilling specifically during Monday 's gathering, which he co-hosted with Rep. Judy Biggert, a Republican from Hinsdale. None of the pre-screened questions broached the topic, either.
The energy secretary stressed the need to increase the domestic oil supply, but he repeatedly stopped short of saying where it should be drilled. At the end of the hour-long meeting, he made a vague reference to a possible need for drilling on "federal land out West."
"We can't, by any means, meet our needs if we don't increase the domestic supply," he said.
Though Abraham danced around a specific mention of Alaska, other supporters of the president's plan did not. Several proponents held signs outside Argonne urging the Bush administration to begin drilling as soon as possible.
"The oil supply they believe Alaska has can reduce our dependency on foreign oil," said Jason Gross, a member of Citizens for a Sound Economy, a national group that endorses Bush's plan. "Our country is hampered by its dependence on foreign oil."
The fate of roughly 25 percent of Bush's plan depends upon Congressional approval. The Democratic-controlled Senate Energy Committee plans later this month to vote on legislation to increase U.S. oil, gas, coal and nuclear supplies as well as tighten efficiency standards for sport utility vehicles.
The Republican-led House Energy and Commerce Committee is scheduled to mark up an energy bill today. The legislation is expected to include a provision requiring stricter mileage standards for cars.