Bush Backs Biodiesel, Campaigns for Energy Bill

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, May 16, 2005 (ENS) - Consumers and businesses in the United States have suffered in recent years from high energy costs, electricity blackouts and rising gasoline prices because Congress has failed to adopt a national energy plan, President George W. Bush said today.

"For the past four years, Americans have seen the cost of delaying a national energy policy," Bush said.

Today’s speech at a biodiesel factory near Richmond, Virginia, was the third major event by the President in the past month devoted to rallying support for his energy plan, which is heavy on support for oil, coal and nuclear power.

"Americans have been waiting long enough for a strategy," said Bush. "It is time for the House and the Senate to come together and to get a good energy bill to my desk by August, and I'll sign it into law."

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President George W. Bush (Photo by Paul Morse courtesy the White House)
The energy bill has repeatedly stalled in the Senate because of concerns about the cost of the legislation, as well as over provisions to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and to grant manufacturers of the fuel additive MTBE protection from litigation. An additive that makes gas burn cleaner, MTBE has contaminated water supplies across the country.

The House passed an $8.6 billion version of the legislation last month that includes both the ANWR and MTBE provisions. The Senate is set to begin work on a bill this week.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid calls Bush’s energy plan "a bad deal for American consumers."

"It will do nothing to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, reduce our consumption or increase production here at home," said the Nevada Democrat.

The President, who has suffered recently in the polls in part because of high gasoline prices, honed in on the concern of American consumers and businesses about rising prices at the pump.

"I wish I could just wave a magic wand and lower the price at the pump," said Bush. "I'd do that. That's not how it works."

High gasoline prices "have been decades in the making," the president said, and are in part the result of growing demand in developing nations like China and India.

"That drives up the price of oil, and that makes prices at the pump even higher for American families and businesses and farmers," Bush said. truck

Illinois soybean farmer fills his truck with biodiesel. (Photo courtesy National Biodiesel Board)

His administration "is doing all we can to help ease the problem in the short run," Bush said, citing efforts to pressure large global producers, in particular Saudi Arabia, to boost their output and to protect Americans from domestic price gouging.

The president outlined a four-point strategy to "address the root causes of high gasoline prices," including efforts to boost domestic oil production and refinery capacity.

The United States consumes some 20 million barrels a day - one quarter of global consumption – and imports 65 percent of that total.

"Our dependence on foreign oil is like a foreign tax on the American Dream, and that tax is growing every year," Bush said.

Bush renewed his strong support for drilling within ANWR, calling it "by far the most promising site for oil in America."

Developing ANWR could yield some one million barrels of oil a day "with almost no impact on land or wildlife," according to the President.

Bush also recommended easing regulatory burdens on the oil industry to expedite expansion of existing oil refineries and construction of new ones on closed military bases.

In addition, the nation must "be better conservers," said Bush, who touted his support for tax credits for Americans who purchase hybrid or biodiesel vehicles.

Bush said would also use the July meeting of the G8, the eight most industrialized countries, to ask other world leaders to work together to encourage developing countries to use clean energy and less oil.

Fourth, Bush urged increased domestic production of alternative fuels like biodiesel and ethanol and cited a federal study that projects alternative fuels could provide about a fifth of America's transportation fuel within 25 years.

The refinery Bush toured Monday makes biodiesel from soybean oil – it can also be produced from other vegetable oils and from recycled cooking grease.

Biodiesel and corn-based ethanol produce less overall air pollution than gasoline or conventional diesel, Bush said, and expanding usage "can help communities to meet clean air standards."

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Triple biofuels dispenser at Baca Street Biofuels Stations, Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Photo courtesy Charles Bensinger and Renewable Energy Partners of New Mexico)
"More Americans are realizing the benefits of biodiesel every year," Bush said. "In 1999, biodiesel producers sold about 500,000 gallons of fuel for the year. Last year, biodiesel sales totaled 30 million gallons. That's a sixtyfold increase in five years. More than 500 operators of major vehicle fleets now use biodiesel."

Bush said more than 300 public fueling stations have started offering biodiesel in the past few years.

"You are beginning to see a new industry evolve," he added. "And as more Americans choose biodiesel over petroleum fuel, they can be proud in knowing they're helping to make this country less dependent on foreign oil."

The president touted an $84 million request for biofuels research in his FY 2006 budget and said he supports "a flexible, cost-effective renewable fuel standard" that would require fuel producers to include a certain percentage of ethanol and biodiesel in their fuel.

But he has not cited a specific figure, leaving environmentalists skeptical of the White House’s commitment to anything but the status quo.

Environmentalists contend that Bush is ignoring ready solutions to lower U.S. dependence on foreign oil and on fossil fuels such as greater fuel economy, and higher energy efficiency standards, as well as increased development of wind and solar energy.

"We have the technology to make America safer and more secure," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "What we need now are leaders that will put people ahead of corporate interests."

But the biodiesel industry was encouraged by Bush's visit.

"President Bush has shown that he believes in biodiesel, and that he wants it to succeed," said Darryl Brinkmann, chairman of the National Biodiesel Board and a soybean producer from Carlyle, Illinois.

"We look to him now to do everything he can to encourage the extension of the federal biodiesel tax incentive and passage of the renewable fuels standard," said Brinkmann. "That policy is needed to help this industry grow and put a significant dent in our imported barrels of petroleum."

Similar to the renewable energy portfolio now required by several states, a renewable fuels standard would require by law that a percentage of the U.S. fuel supply would be provided by renewable, domestic fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel.

Bush got a laugh from his invited audience at the Virginia Biodiesel Refinery by contrasting the energy politics of today with those of the 1970s.

"Not long ago the prospect of running a car on fuel made from soybean oil seemed pretty unlikely," Bush said. "I imagine 30 years ago a politician saying, 'Vote for me and I'll see to it that your car can run on soybean oil,' wouldn't get very far. Here we are, standing in front of a refinery that makes it."