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Embattled Bush Launches Greenhouse Gas Crusade

President George W. Bush talking on renewable energy in April last year. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Olivier Knox
Washington (AFP) Jan 23, 2007
US President George W. Bush will call Tuesday for a 20 percent cut in gasoline use over 10 years and curbs on dangerous emissions, in a State of the Union address aimed at rescuing his presidency from the tumult of the Iraq war. Under fire from rival Democrats and even fellow Republicans, Bush will lay out a plethora of domestic policy programs, striving to escape the shadow of a conflict which has killed more than 3,000 US soldiers and threatens his legacy.

Bush's prime-time televised address, set for 9:00 pm (0200 GMT Wednesday), will take place with his poll numbers mired at all-time lows and US forces in Iraq facing some of the worst violence since the March 2003 invasion.

He will defend his plan to deploy more than 20,000 additional troops into the country and ask Democrats who have rejected his plan to join a bipartisan "advisory council" on the war, the White House said.

Delivering the speech to a Democratic-controlled Congress for the first time in his six years in office, Bush will call for a doubling of America's emergency oil reserves by 2027 and urge approval of comprehensive immigration reform, according to a White House fact sheet.

On the foreign policy front, the president will call for greater political freedom in Cuba, Belarus and Myanmar, national security adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters.

Embattled Bush will also call for balancing the US budget within five years, a curb on spending and an effort to overhaul government-run health care and pension plans, a top aide said.

He will flesh out the plans announced in the address to Congress in a subsequent "state of the economy" speech prior to releasing his budget proposal, the aide told reporters.

Bush prepared for the speech in the knowledge that he is less popular than any US president ahead of a State of the Union speech since Richard Nixon, who resigned in disgrace following the Watergate political scandal in 1974.

A CBS News poll put Bush's overall popularity at just 28 percent, a record low, with 64 percent of those polled disapproving of his performance.

An ABC-Washington Post poll released late Monday on the eve of the president's annual speech, shows a 33 percent approval rating, matching Bush's lowest ratings in May 2006.

And an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll pegged Bush's approval rate at 35 percent, his lowest rating on the joint survey.

But White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush would use the valuable chance to speak directly to Americans, to kick-start his agenda.

"The president has got two years left in office, and he wants to get important business done. And he understands that there are problems that will not go away," said Snow.

Bush, whom critics worldwide accuse of neglecting climate change, hopes to halt the growth in carbon-dioxide emissions from automobiles, light trucks and sport-utility vehicles by 2017, said his deputy chief of staff, Joel Kaplan.

"The president is going to propose a bold, ambitious, but achievable goal of reducing by 20 percent our gasoline usage by 2017," Kaplan told reporters in a briefing on the high-stakes political speech.

Bush will urge the Congress to give him powers to change automotive fuel economy standards and take steps to stimulate the production and consumption of renewable and alternative fuels, said Kaplan.

The plan would cut annual emissions from cars and light trucks by as much as 10 percent, about 175 metric tonnes, the equivalent of zeroing out the annual emissions of 26 million automobiles, he said.

White House officials pointed to new developments in Iraq, acknowledging the soaring death toll and past errors but underlining what they described as promising new developments in quelling deadly sectarian violence.

Iraqi and US forces have captured more than 600 fighters loyal to firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the US military said Tuesday, following a day of carnage that left 100 dead in a string of bombings in and around Baghdad.

In a major crackdown launched in the past few weeks against the Mahdi Army -- the strongly anti-US militia headed by Sadr and now considered the biggest security threat to Iraq by the Pentagon -- more than 600 fighters and 16 militia leaders have been detained, the military said.

But Democrats showed no sign of welcoming Bush's speech.

"There's a great discouragement about the president's leadership," Senator Hillary Clinton, now part of the crowded field to replace Bush in 2008, told NBC television.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Paris (AFP) Jan 23, 2007
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