State of the Union Energy Proposals Draw Mixed Reaction

WASHINGTON, DC, January 23, 2007 (ENS) - In his State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress tonight, President George W. Bush made it clear he is concerned about disruptions to the American energy supply.

"For too long our nation has been dependent on foreign oil. And this dependence leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes, and to terrorists - who could cause huge disruptions of oil shipments, and raise the price of oil, and do great harm to our economy," the President warned.

President Bush's response to this danger is a greater emphasis on energy conservation and alternative fuels as well as more domestic oil production and a request to Congress to double the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

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President George W. Bush addresses a joint session of Congress. Behind him stand Vice President Dick Cheney and Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. (Photo by David Bohrer courtesy The White House)
The President said he wants the United States to cut gasoline usage by 20 percent in the next 10 years to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil.

To reach this goal, Bush proposed raising the national renewable fuel standard. "We must increase the supply of alternative fuels, by setting a mandatory fuels standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017," the President said, "and that is nearly five times the current target."

Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the national Renewable Fuel Standard Program will increase the volume of renewable fuel required to be blended into gasoline, starting with four billion gallons in 2006 and rising to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012.

"At the same time," President Bush said tonight, "we need to reform and modernize fuel economy standards for cars the way we did for light trucks - and conserve up to 8.5 billion more gallons of gasoline by 2017."

"It's in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply - the way forward is through technology," he said.

He advocated "greater use of clean coal technology, solar and wind energy, and clean, safe nuclear power," as well as battery research for plug-in and hybrid vehicles, clean diesel vehicles and biodiesel fuel.

"We must continue investing in new methods of producing ethanol, using everything from wood chips to grasses, to agricultural wastes," said Bush referring to the effort to make ethanol from non-food plant materials, known as cellulosic ethanol. Bush

President Bush makes a point during his State of the Union address. (Photo by Eric Draper courtesy The White House)

Together with his emphasis on alternative fuels, the President said the country "must step up domestic oil production in environmentally sensitive ways."

"America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil," said Bush. "And these technologies will help us be better stewards of the environment, and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change."

With these words Bush acknowledged that climate change is an important issue, but he disappointed environmentalists and others by failing to address the problem with a plan to curb the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for raising the global temperature.

Yesterday, the heads of 10 large corporations and four environmental groups urged national legislation to limit emissions of the primary greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide.

Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, is one of the 14 corporate and environmental CEOs who called on Congress to enact mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions. She expressed disappointment with the State of the Union address.

"Across the United States, scientists, CEOs, environment groups, state governments, and members of Congress, are seeking a comprehensive approach to global climate change and what the President is proposing is really only a very small step in that direction; his plan only affects the transportation sector, which accounts for roughly one-third of US greenhouse gas emissions; and it is unclear how real this commitment is," said Claussen.

"If we hope to deal with climate change in a reasonable manner, we need an approach that is both economy-wide and mandatory, and that will put us on a path toward significant greenhouse gas reductions," she said.

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Rush hour in New York City (Photo by Ian Britton courtesy FreeFoto)
Greenpeace USA Executive Director John Passacantando said, "Instead of creating a real national plan to combat global warming and increase energy security, the President has ensured his legacy of failure while continuing to represent the interests of the energy industry."

"Today, the President proposed an alternative fuels proposal that could actually increase global warming pollution along with a fuel efficiency program for automobiles that lacks any real targets," Passacantando said.

Carter Roberts, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund, said, "Tonight the President took a long overdue step toward acknowledging global warming as a significant threat to the nation. Fuel efficiency and alternative fuels have to be considered as part of a larger solution, but the measures outlined this evening fall far short of what the majority of Americans, a growing number of states, and an increasing number of CEOs are demanding - a comprehensive approach that includes a mandatory cap of emissions across sectors.

Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust said Bush's advocacy of fuel economy standards rings hollow. "The President has had all the authority he needs to increase fuel economy standards since the day he took office, and he has refused to act," said Clapp. "His request for new legislation letting him set standards basically model-by-model is something Detroit has pushed for years - as a way to poke more loopholes in the current weak standards."

But David Friedman, research director of the Union of Concerned Scientists, UCS, was more positive regarding a possible fuel economy requirement.

"This could be the breakthrough we have been waiting for on fuel economy," Friedman said. "The President joins leaders in Congress calling for increasing the gas mileage of cars, SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks to 34 mpg by 2017. This is the equivalent of a four percent improvement per year."

"According to UCS research, if this fuel economy goal is required by law, it would save 550,000 barrels of oil per day in 2017, more than we currently import from Iraq. The increase would also cut global warming pollution by 95 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in that same year. This is equivalent to taking 14 million of today's cars and trucks off the road," Friedman said.

Senator Jim Webb of Virginia gave the Democrats' response to the President's State of the Union address.

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Senator Jim Webb of Virginia (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
"This is the seventh time the President has mentioned energy independence in his state of the union message, but for the first time this exchange is taking place in a Congress led by the Democratic Party," said Webb.

"We are looking for affirmative solutions that will strengthen our nation by freeing us from our dependence on foreign oil, and spurring a wave of entrepreneurial growth in the form of alternate energy programs," said Webb.

Earlier today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in advance of the State of the Union address that they are already at work on a national energy policy based on renewable and alternative fuels.

"President Bush's goals for energy independence are commendable, but we now must get straight to work on a real national energy policy," said Reid and Pelosi. "In Congress, we have already begun work in earnest on renewable fuels, on global warming, and on shifting energy tax incentives away from Big Oil. We ask the President to join us to take real steps forward."

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said tonight that Bush's 2007 budget spent more on tax breaks for big oil than on renewable energy.

"President Bush's 2007 budget provided paltry amounts of money for alternative and renewable energy, far less than the $2 billion the oil and gas industry received in 2007 tax breaks. This is on top of flat funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy research and development," said Dean.

Congress

Members of both houses of Congress, the Cabinet and the Supreme Court listened to the President's State of the Union address. (Photo by Shealah Craighead courtesy The White House)

Republican environmentalists were critical of the President's proposals.

"While the President's support for improved fuel economy and expanded biofuels development is welcome, his proposals, unfortunately, fail to match the scale of the problems that we face," said Government Affairs Director David Jenkins for Republicans for Environmental Protection, REP, a national grassroots organization.

"We cannot afford to settle for reducing oil consumption two million barrels per day 10 years from now. We must aim for continuing and larger reductions through aggressive policies to improve fuel efficiency and to replace gasoline with home-grown fuels that can be produced and used cleanly," said REP Policy Director Jim DiPeso. REP favors plug-in hybrids, higher fuel economy standards, and expanding production of biofuels from farm waste and other non-food sources.

"Conservatism imposes a moral obligation on the present generation to restrain wasteful consumption, treat the world with reverence, and protect the inheritance of future generations," said Jenkins. Real conservatives have a duty to reduce emissions that cause global warming."

Still, renewable energy producers took heart from the President's support of their industry.

The commercial production of cellulosic ethanol, made from non-food plant materials, got a boost after the President's state of the union address increasing the emphasis on domestic renewable fuels production.

Flambeau River Biorefinery, LLC of Wisconsin announced tonight that it will provide project management and engineering services for the first modern U.S. pulp mill biorefinery to produce cellulosic ethanol.

The new biorefinery will be constructed adjacent to the Flambeau River Papers facility in Park Falls, Wisconsin.

It will be designed to produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year from spent pulping liquor. The technology selected for this biorefinery is a patent pending process technology of American Process Inc. It enables production of ethanol without putting additional pressure on forests and without fossil fuel consumption.

Wind power generating capacity increased by 27 percent in 2006 and is expected to increase an additional 26 percent in 2007, proving wind is now a mainstream option for new power generation, according to a market forecast released today by the American Wind Energy Association, AWEA.

The association, an industry trade group, is seeking a five year extension to the federal production tax credit that now ends in December 2008.

Bipartisan legislation was introduced in the House last week to extend solar energy investment tax credits for homeowners and businesses through 2016. The credits are currently set to expire next year.