Bush Pushes for Renewables

ST. LOUIS, Missouri, October 12, 2006 (ENS) - President George W. Bush today warned the nation not to become complacent about the need for new energy sources. "Let me put it bluntly - we're too dependent on oil," Bush told attendees at a renewable energy conference in St. Louis. "Low gasoline prices may mask that concern."

This week the national price for unleaded gasoline reached its lowest point since mid-February.

"I welcome the low gasoline prices, however it's not going to dim my enthusiasm for making sure we diversify away from oil," Bush said.

Bush

The president spoke at the 2006 Advancing Renewable Energy conference, a three-day meeting sponsored by the government. (Photo by Eric Draper courtesy White House)

The president did not offer any new proposals during the speech, but rather repeated his message that technology holds the key to the nation's energy future.

"This country has got to use its talent and its wealth to get us off oil," Bush said. "And I believe we will do so, and I believe - I know - the best way to do so is through technological breakthroughs."

"It's time to get rid of the old, stale debates on the environment and recognize new technologies are going to enable us to achieve a lot of objectives at the same time," Bush said. "Technology will enable us to be able to say we can grow our economy and protect our environment at the same time. It's not a zero-sum game anymore.

Security and economic concerns are central to the nation's need to curb its dependence on foreign oil, said Bush, whose speech was interrupted by a protestor who yelled "Out of Iraq now - soldiers are not renewables!"

The president ignored the interruption and called on Congress to make the renewable energy tax credits permanent and touted his programs to promote hybrid vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells.

Ethanol is critical to the nation's energy future, Bush said, and there are ample signs of good progress. Annual ethanol production is up to five billion gallons from 1.6 billion in 2000 and 40 new ethanol refineries are set to begin operations next year. But there are only 700 gasoline stations that offer ethanol to consumers and few Americans own cars that can run on the biofuel.

Bush said federal investment in producing ethanol from crops other than corn will pay off in the long run. "The thing that's preventing ethanol from becoming more widespread across the country is the lack of other types of feedstocks," Bush said. "It seems like it makes sense to spend money, your money, on researching cellulosic ethanol, so that we could use wood chips, or switch grass, or other natural materials."

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Switchgrass can yield almost twice as much ethanol as corn, estimates geneticist Ken Vogel. (Photo by Brett Hampton courtesy USDA)
The transition to new energy sources will not come overnight and the nation "has to be "realistic about the timing." said Bush, who also renewed his call for more domestic energy production from traditional sources, such as oil, gas and coal.

The president urged Congress to pass legislation to expand oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Congress needs to get the bill to my desk as quick as possible," Bush said. "So when you finish the elections, get back and let me sign this bill so the American people know that we're serious about getting off foreign oil."

Bush also stated his support for the continuing use of coal and the expansion of nuclear power.

"If we want to keep this country competitive, if we want to make sure we can compete globally, we must promote civilian nuclear power," Bush said. "We must have more energy coming from nuclear power."

"One of the problems we've had is that nobody wants to build any plants," the president added. "They're afraid of the costs of regulation and the litigious nature that surrounds the construction of nuclear power plants - litigious problems surrounding the construction of the nuclear power plants."

Critics said Bush's speech offer little new to the nation's energy debate and illustrated the president's aversion to efforts to curb demand for energy.

Representative Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said the president overstated the role that biofuels - in particular ethanol - can play in curbing the nation's dependence on oil.

"The President's energy speech failed to articulate an effective vision for curbing America's oil addiction," Markey said. "Even if our country pursues an aggressive ethanol development and deployment plan, ethanol will not be able to reduce our oil consumption nearly as quickly or as nearly much as raising fuel economy standards."

Addressing the same conference on Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman announced nearly $17.5 million for 17 biomass research, development and demonstration projects that they say will help break America's addiction to oil.

Bodman and Johanns

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, left, and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns resopond to questions at a press conference at the USDA/DOE Renewable Energy Conference. (Photo courtesy USDA)
"Americans are discovering the road to energy independence is paved with natural resources grown right here at home," Secretary Johanns told delegates.

"This is a new era for America's farmers, ranchers and rural communities as they seize this moment where opportunity meets need, and where American ingenuity breaks a century long addiction to oil," Johanns said.

"This funding will spur new scientific innovation that will help us kick our over-reliance on oil," Bodman said. "By investing in our nation's promising researchers we are closer to making clean, affordable alternative sources of energy a reality."

The new grants are intended to develop technologies necessary to help make bio-based fuels cost-competitive with fossil fuels in the commercial market.

Energy Department funds go to three projects developing cellulosic biomass. The Agriculture Department will provide funding to address such topics as feedstock production and product diversification.

The largest grant went to Edenspace Systems Corporation of Virgina. An award of $1,926,900 will be used to develop commercial corn hybrids engineered for enhanced, low-cost conversion of cellulosic biomass to ethanol.