President: U.S. Must Break 'Oil Addiction'

In his Jan. 31 State of the Union address, President Bush warned Americans their country is "addicted to oil" and pledged that he would seek investment in alternative energy sources with the goal of replacing 75 percent of oil imports from the Middle East by 2025.

"America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world," Bush said. "The best way to break this addiction is through technology."

Recent oil prices have thrown a cloud over the economy, and criticism is mounting over the oil companies that are raking in record profits. In his address, Bush sought to drive the election-year agenda, announcing such initiatives as increased federal research into alternative fuels such as ethanol made from weeds or wood chips.

"We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen," Bush stated.

Bush announced the Advanced Energy Initiative -- a 22-percent increase in clean-energy research -- at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). "To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy," the president said.

The president's support of nuclear power was cheered by Nuclear Energy Institute President and CEO Skip Bowman. "President Bush's comments on nuclear energy are a positive sign that the United States should seek to expand our nation's reliance on this emission-free source of electricity," Bowman said. "We share the President's belief that America's future energy security depends in large part on a diverse portfolio of energy sources that keeps us from being overly dependent on one or two fuel sources."

However, Dr. Stephen Smith of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said that nuclear power is not an energy solution. "Nuclear power is a fatally flawed technology. It's not economically viable. There's no place to put the highly radioactive wastes from normal plant operation. And every new plant that we build is a target for terrorists. We can get all the energy we need from renewable, safe, and truly clean alternatives," Smith said.

Bob Slaughter, president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA), stated: "It is important, however, that mandates, price controls, and other command-and-control or punitive measures not be adopted as energy policy, and we do not believe that the President indicated any support for these options. Unfortunately, some members of Congress are advocating imposition of a windfall profits tax, retroactive policy changes and other punitive measures, despite the overwhelming evidence that these policies would do great harm to the nation's energy supply and security as we make the transition to a technology-driven future."

Critics stated that competitive hydrogen power is decades away and biofuels can substitute only for a small fraction of gasoline consumption. They also noted that the president was silent on fuel taxes and made no mention of taking such measures such as raising auto fuel-efficiency standards.

"Everyone knows that our nation is addicted to oil. President Bush is just being an enabler, letting our dependence grow for another twenty years until some miracle technology solves the problem. The only cure for addiction is an intervention, and that means getting serious about increasing the fuel efficiency of American made cars. That will help Detroit beat foreign competition, stop the job losses in the auto industry and cut our dependence on foreign oil," said Philip E. Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust.

Apollo Alliance president Jerome Ringo stated that "the president promised more research on homegrown ethanol, a substitute for oil. The president made the same promise last year and then cut funding for the program."

The president also called for doubling the federal commitment to the most critical basic research programs in the physical sciences over the next 10 years. "This funding will support the work of America's most creative minds as they explore promising areas such as nanotechnology, supercomputing, and alternative energy sources," Bush said.

E. Ann Nalley, Ph.D., president, American Chemical Society, stated that the president's comments about innovation "have enabled us to renew the United States' focus on its competitive strength: robust basic research, world-class science and engineering education, and clear policies that encourage industry, universities, and national laboratories to innovate. The President has put this issue in the forefront by providing an agenda that assures our future economic prosperity and continued American leadership in a rapidly changing world."

The State of the Union address can be accessed at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/01/20060131-10.html.

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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