President Bush, trying to squeeze some political fuel from his State of the Union address, hit the road Thursday to campaign for an energy plan aimed at reducing Americans’ energy consumption habits.
After signing an executive order Wednesday to cut down on the federal government’s use of gasoline and increase its use of alternative fuels, Bush took his message to the people with a quick stop at one of the nation’s largest researchers of alternative fuels.
“Dependence on oil provides an economic and national security risk, a problem that this country better start dealing with in a serious fashion — now,” Bush told employees of DuPont, at the company’s Delaware headquarters.
Reducing Dependence on Foreign Sources
The president, trying to bulk up his already light domestic agenda, used the trip to Delaware to warn Americans about a possible impending crisis if the country doesn’t curb its enthusiasm for foreign fuels.
“You don’t want your president sitting in the Oval Office worried about the activities of a hostile regime that can have all kinds of impacts on our security, starting with economic security,” Bush told DuPont employees, referring to possible terrorist strikes on fuel sources outside the country.
The president’s new energy proposal calls on Congress to require the annual use of 35 billion gallons of ethanol and other alternative fuels such as biodiesel by 2017, a fivefold increase over current requirements. The ethanol would be in gasoline blends of 10 to 85 percent.
Although Bush said he isn’t asking Americans to go cold turkey on petroleum products, he expects biofuels like cellulosic ethanol, which can be made from wood chips, switchgrass and corn-plant parts such as stalks and leaves, to ease the inevitable transition.
Alternative fuel sources — from solar power to wind initiatives to recycled trash — have long been trumpeted as almost futuristic visions of tomorrow’s energy landscape. In reality, though, the future is already here.
A growing number of farmers are already forming ethanol and biofuel energy cooperatives, and eco-friendly entrepreneurs are now offering vegetable oil engine conversion kits and services.
Bush’s new energy initiative would ultimately lean on these groups. Calling for a reduction in gasoline consumption by up to 20 percent over 10 years, it would necessitate a ramp-up in production of these alternative fuels.
Watching Special Interests
The push toward efficiency consumption and away from the SUV model has placed the United States in a somewhat unique, if not precarious, position, said James Wilson, author of theAlternative Energy Blog.
“Other countries, like Great Britain, don’t have the amount of agricultural land to produce large enough biofuels to support domestic consumption,” Wilson told the E-Commerce Times.
However, the United States’ ability to grow massive amounts of corn and grain is already producing a demand, even though ethanol might not be a viable long-term answer, he said.
High Cost of Production
Ethanol has already created an addiction of its own, Wilson argues, with farmers and agribusiness interests lobbying to keep potentially huge profits on the horizon.
Although all U.S. vehicles can burn 10 percent ethanol (E10), the country only produces half as much ethanol as E10 would require, he pointed out.
The U.S makes about 5 billion gallons of ethanol, but use 140 billion gallons of gas, according to the Bush administration.
From an environmental perspective, Wilson said, creating so much ethanol does not make a lot of sense at the moment.
“There are issues,” he said, “ranging from the amount of water needed to produce ethanol [to] the pesticide runoff and soil erosion.”
Ultimately, some form of electricity will be the optimum replacement for fossil fuels, Wilson predicted.
Higher Fuel Standards
Another key element of Bush’s plan, as outlined in his State of the Union speech, is higher fuel-economy standards for cars.
The administration is asking Congress for the power to set high fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, using a system it says will preserve choices for costumers and protect vehicle safety.
However, Bush opposes any legislation that would simply set a higher fuel economy standard.