President emphasizes alternative fuels in energy initiative

by Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON — President George W. Bush in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night presented a three-pronged initiative he said would lead to a 20% reduction of United States gasoline usage by 2017. The president emphasized the importance of vastly expanding the nation’s production of ethanol and other alternative fuels.

"It’s in our vital interest to diversify America’s energy supply, and the way forward is through technology," President Bush said. "We must continue changing the way America generates electric power by even greater use of clean coal technology, solar and wind energy, and clean, safe nuclear power. We need to press on with battery research for plug-in and hybrid vehicles, and expand the use of 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."

Mr. Bush said the U.S. should reduce by 20% its use of gasoline by 2017.

"When we do that, we will have cut our total imports by the equivalent of three-quarters of all the oil we now import from the Middle East."

To accomplish that goal, the U.S. must set "a mandatory fuels standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017," Mr. Bush said. He pointed out the new target was nearly five times the current goal enshrined in law for 2012. In a backgrounder posted on the White House web site, it was suggested 35 billion gallons of renewable fuel in 2017 would displace 15% of the projected annual gasoline usage for that year.

It should be noted the White House backgrounder indicated Mr. Bush also proposed to expand the scope of the current Renewable Fuel Standard, transforming it into an "Alternative Fuel Standard," which would include sources such as corn ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel, methanol, butanol, hydrogen and alternative fuels.

The backgrounder pointed out the increased alternative fuels standard would come with "safety valves." For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator and the Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy would have authority to waive or modify the standard if they deem it necessary, and the new fuel standard would include an automatic "safely valve" to protect against unforeseen increases in the prices of alternative fuels or their feedstocks.

The president said fuel economy standards must be reformed and modernized with the aim of conserving up to 8.5 billion more gallons of gasoline by 2017, which would mark a further 5% reduction in projected gasoline usage in that year, bringing the total reduction in gasoline use to 20%.

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

Mr. Bush’s third major proposal was that the amount of oil in the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve be doubled to about 1.5 billion barrels of oil over the next 20 years.

Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, Washington, said "Recognizing the potential of our nation’s ethanol industry, President Bush used the unique forum of the State of the Union Address to elevate the significance of ethanol and renewable fuels to our nation’s energy future by calling for 35 billion gallons of alternative fuel use by 2017. With consistent and focused policies, this is an eminently achievable goal. It will stimulate new investment in cellulosic ethanol technologies and drive market opportunities for ethanol beyond existing blend levels. It is a goal that makes sense for America."

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