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2012-03-05 08:55

FOCUS ON CUTTING FUEL BILLS: US president Barack Obama hopes to decrease overall fuel consumption by 2025 though his critics believe he is merely "showboating" ahead of the US 2012 elections.

JIM KUHNHENN

WASHINGTON -  US president Barack Obama says lower fuel consumption and better cars built by a resurgent US vehicle industry will reduce bills at the fuel pumps, a counterpoint to Republican criticism of his energy policy.

In his weekly radio and online address Obama said Detroit automakers were on track to build cars that would average nearly 23km/litre by 2025, doubling current standards.

Obama said: "That means folks will be able to fill up every two weeks instead of every week. That's a big deal, especially as families are yet again feeling the pinch from rising fuel prices."

Obama has been eager to appear aggressive in the face of rising fuel prices even as he reminds audiences that there is no simple, immediate solution that will reverse the current spike in prices.

Obama said: "What's happening in Detroit will make a difference but it won't solve everything. There's no silver bullet for avoiding spikes in fuel prices every year."

OBAMA CRITICISM

By drawing attention to the vehicle industry, Obama looked to highlight both his efforts to improve fuel efficiency as well as his role in helping General Motors and Chrysler. He also reiterated his call to end oil and fuel company tax breaks and government subsidies that average about R30-billion a year.

Rising oil prices have become a concern at the White House, where Obama aides worry they could hurt an economic recovery that has been improving and also harm the president's re-election prospects.

Oil prices rise each year but they have spiked since January 2012 due to increased tensions over Iran's nuclear programme. In the US, fuel prices reached R7.30/litre on March 2, a record at this point in the calendar but still shy of the high point of R8.30/litre in July 2008.

Republican Richard Hastings said a meeting with Obama and leaders from both parties "provided a glimmer of new hope that the president and the democratic-controlled Senate may finally act on some bipartisan energy bills".

Hastings, chairman of the house natural resources committee, faulted Obama for not doing more to increase domestic oil and fuel production, for opposing drilling in the Arctic wildlife refuge, for blocking a Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline and for imposing regulations on energy producers.

Hastings said: "The president, who campaigned on a promise to address rising fuel prices, now talks as if they're largely beyond his control."

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