WEST POINT, Va., May 16 -- When high school senior Sarah Elizabeth
Williams started the first Manchester High School Teenage Republicans two years
ago, she never guessed it would lead to her spending a muddy, buggy morning
sitting outside a remote biodiesel refinery.
It did, and she couldn't have been more excited.
"I said, 'Please, please, please let me come,' " Williams, 18, recalled
as she waited for President Bush to give a speech to about 450 GOP activists and
supporters in which he urged more support for alternative fuels to reduce the
country's dependence on foreign oil.
Williams, who plans to attend Randolph-Macon College next year, joined
invited guests from across central Virginia in welcoming Bush to this tiny
community west of Williamsburg.
"[Bush] goes to Chicago; it's no big deal. He goes to New York; it's no
big deal," said Libby Downey, 53, a real estate agent from Gloucester who
brought her two 5-year-old grandsons to the speech. "For the people around here,
we're a small community. For the president to come here, that really is a big
At the start of a week in which the U.S. Senate will begin considering
a comprehensive energy bill, Bush toured a small company that produces a
clean-burning alternative fuel by mixing diesel with a specially-refined soybean
Owners of Virginia Biodiesel Refineries demonstrated their technology
by holding a white handkerchief up to the exhaust of a tractor-trailer powered
by the mixture. It "remained white," Bush later said. The president urged the
Senate to join the House of Representatives in passing a bill that promotes
development of biodiesel and ethanol-based fuels.
"Our dependence on foreign oil is like a foreign tax on the American
Dream, and that tax is growing every year," Bush told the friendly crowd. "It's
time for the United States Senate to act."
Bush used the morning speech to prod senators who have resisted
provisions of the bill that open parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to
oil drilling. He said the bill would authorize drilling on 2,000 of its 19
"Developing this tiny area could yield up to about a million barrels of
oil a day," Bush said. "And thanks to technology, we can reach that oil with
almost no impact on land or wildlife."
The president's critics called his message overly optimistic. In a
statement, the executive director of the Sierra Club, Carl Pope, said Bush's
speech dredged up "19th-century solutions." He said the president is pushing for
an energy policy "that fails to lower gas prices, fails to cut our dependence on
oil, and puts our public lands and communities at risk."
"No photo op can hide the fact that the Bush energy plan gives 90
percent of its tax breaks to Big Oil and gas and other fossil fuels," Sen. Maria
Cantwell (D-Wash.) said.
Bush's visit drew a virtual who's who of politics. Five members of
congress attended, as did more than a dozen Virginia state senators and
delegates. Bush was introduced by Sen. George Allen (R-Va.). After the speech,
Allen emphasized the importance of an energy bill. He also quipped that he saves
a penny a gallon on gas by using a preferred-customer card at the Flying J truck
West Point merchants hung banners welcoming Bush to their town, even
though he never made it beyond its industrial outskirts. One shop advertised
free oil changes in honor of Bush's visit.
In his speech, Bush noted that he was the first sitting president to
visit the West Point area.
"They tell me George Washington came before he was president," Bush
said. "I thought it was time for another George W. to stop by."
Phyllis Karhatsu and Sharon Clark both came from Richmond to see the
president after getting tickets through the Republican women's club and the
Chesterfield GOP committee.
"He's down to earth," Karhatsu said. "He's the type of person you can
see as a father or a brother. He's a great leader."