President Bush has likened the United States' reliance on imported oil to an addiction and says it must be stopped. President Bush spoke on the need for fundamental changes in American energy consumption during his State of the Union address before Congress late Tuesday.
The latter half of President Bush's speech was devoted largely to domestic concerns, with one overriding theme: boosting American economic competitiveness as a means to greater prosperity. He argues competing in the global marketplace is hampered by high energy costs and runaway American fuel consumption.
"America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world," said Mr. Bush. "The best way to break this addiction to is through technology."
Mr. Bush, a former Texas oil businessman, proposed a 22-percent boost in funding for federal programs aimed at developing alternatives to petroleum, including solar and wind power, alternative fuels such as ethanol, so-called "hybrid" gasoline-electric cars, and hydrogen-powered vehicles.
"Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025," he said. "By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment - move beyond a petroleum-based economy - and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past."
The United States has less than five-percent of the world's population yet consumes roughly 25-percent of global energy output. David Hamilton, who directs energy programs at the American-based ecological group, Sierra Club, says little change is likely under the president's energy proposals.
"I wish there was more 'change' in the changes he would like to make. The things he proposes are largely research programs that will not really change the reality of high [energy] prices," said Hamilton. "We are in the midst of an ongoing energy crisis."
Hamilton says, if President Bush were serious about curbing U.S. oil consumption and promoting alternative energy sources, he would push for significantly higher fuel economy standards for a automobiles sold in the United States.
It is perhaps not surprising that environmental groups would criticize the Bush proposals as insufficient or lacking. The president angered ecologists, worldwide, upon entering office, when he promptly pulled the United States out of the 1997 Kyoto protocol for reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses. To this day he has few - if any - defenders in the environmental movement.
But Mr. Bush's State of the Union energy proposals are also getting a chilly reception from some right-leaning thinkers whose ideology more closely resembles that of the president. Jerry Taylor, who specializes in energy matters at the Cato Institute - a Washington public policy organization - says, when it comes to energy, federal intrusion into the free market is a mistake.
"If alternative energy sources have economic merit, then we do not need government programs to subsidize them," said Taylor. "Investors will put their own money into those technologies, because that is how you make a profit."
In the Democratic Party's response to the president's address, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine said Americans are using more energy than ever before, paying more for it and are more dependent than ever on petroleum from the Middle East. He said oil companies are taking in "record-breaking excess profits" and stressed the need for greater public investment in energy alternatives.