Bush energy initiative seeks to lower US oil imports

Feb. 1, 2006
US President George W. Bush announced an advanced energy initiative aimed at reducing US dependence on imported oil in his state of the union address Jan. 31.

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, Feb. 1 -- US President George W. Bush announced an advanced energy initiative aimed at reducing US dependence on imported oil in his state of the union address Jan. 31.

But two congressional Republican energy leaders quickly pointed out that it overlooked potential contributions from the country's substantial oil shale deposits.

The initiative includes a 22% increase in clean energy research at the Department of Energy aimed at improving production of electricity and changing "how we power our automobiles," the president said.

"Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a problem. America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable areas of the world," Bush said. "The best way to break this addition is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper and more reliable alternative energy sources. And we are on the threshold of incredible advances."

For transportation, Bush said, the federal government would accelerate research on improving batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles and production of ethanol from switch grass and wood chips or stalks as well as corn.

"Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol competitive and practical within 6 years," the president said. "Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal—to replace more than 75% of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025."

Through "talent and technology," he said, the US can "move beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past."

Early reactions
Among early reactions, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) applauded Bush's pledge to accelerate alternative transportation fuel research but added that oil shale also could play a significant part.

"This is a sharp departure from past speeches," Domenici said. "Traditionalists may be disappointed that oil and gas weren't the centerpieces of his energy remarks, but the president is absolutely right to map out an expanded strategy in alternative energy."

He emphasized that the United States would not replace foreign oil soon but said that Bush is moving the country in the right direction.

"However, in order to achieve his goal of reducing our reliance on Middle East oil by 75% in the next 20 years, I do think we have to focus our ingenuity on extracting oil from our own abundant resources such as oil shale," Domenici said. "A push into oil shale research can complement our alternative fuel research and make the president's goal a reality."

But the ranking minority member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee was less impressed. "President Bush once again says all the right things about energy and the environment, but his 5-year record demonstrates something very different," said Sen. James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.). "He spoke again tonight about reducing our nation's dependence on foreign oil, but his policies have done little to achieve that goal. Our nation is now more dependent on foreign oil than ever before."

Growing competition
In the House, Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-Calif.) said Bush's plan is visionary and comes as countries around the world grow more economically competitive.

"These countries, like China and India, know that energy is the lifeblood of a strong economy. And because of this increased global demand for energy, our country remains in an energy crisis that hurts American families and businesses," he said.

The US won't remain economically competitive if businesses leave because energy prices are too high, Pombo warned.

"We must treat this problem with a combination of new and diverse energy sources, increased American energy production and more energy conservation," he said.

In addition to increased alternative energy and clean-coal research, more ethanol production, and accelerated conservation, Pombo said, Congress must "use the world's strictest environmental regulations" to tap energy resources in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The United States also needs to produce more of its conventional energy such as oil and gas and recover petroleum from shale deposits, he said.

"It would be irresponsible to pretend we won't need traditional fossil fuels in the near future as we transition to alternative sources," Pombo said.

Contact Nick Snow at [email protected].