WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Lieberman (search) said Wednesday that his administration would work to reduce foreign oil dependence by two-thirds in 10 years and put the nation on a path to eliminate it completely within two decades.
Lieberman's goal relies heavily on lowering the amount of fuel used by vehicles and an emerging process for turning coal into pollution-free hydrogen.
The Connecticut senator says he can reach his 10-year benchmark with a $25 billion investment and without drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (search) that President Bush wants.
"We will not drill our way out of dependence on foreign oil," Lieberman said in a speech at Resources for the Future, an environmental think tank.
Much of Lieberman's plan is sure to be embraced by environmentalists -- except for his call for fuel derived from coal. He would spend $15 billion to develop processes that turn coal into hydrogen, then dispose of the carbon dioxide byproduct deep under ground.
Many environmentalists say coal mining creates an environmental problem by destroying the land and polluting the water. And they say burying carbon dioxide is an untested technique with no guarantees it won't be released over time.
Lieberman argues that the United States is sitting on a 200-year supply of coal and the industry is developing more environmentally friendly methods to turn it into power. He also said his plan will stimulate the economy by creating jobs in the coal industry, which has a significant presence in key electoral states such as West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.
Lieberman's other chief proposal would require automakers to build vehicles that save 2 million barrels of oil by 2015 -- a drop of about 15 percent from what is used by automobiles on U.S. roads today.
Lieberman sees his plan as a solution to the current fight over federal fuel economy standards. Environmentalists have been pushing for the government to require that vehicles go farther on a gallon of gas, but the industry says the standards are too rigid and don't reflect Americans' preferences for big trucks and sport utility vehicles.
Lieberman's plan would allow companies that exceed standards to receive credits they could sell to their competitors.
"For too long now, we've been caught in a stale debate between those who say that fuel efficiency standards are simply unachievable and the costs are too high and those who want to micromanage the actions of individual automobile manufacturers," Lieberman said.
But the auto industry does not see Lieberman's plan as a solution. Gloria Bergquist, spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (search), says requiring a reduction of 2 million barrels a day would be more stringent than the fuel economy proposals that the industry has already fought back in the Senate.
Lieberman's plan includes several other components, including tax credits for those who buy cars and trucks with more fuel-efficient technology and a $6.5 billion investment in fuel cell research -- more than 5 times what the Bush administration is spending. Lieberman's plan also would set a goal of 100,000 fuel cell vehicles on the road by 2010 and 2.5 million by 2020.
Bergquist said although automakers support tax credits for new technologies and more money for fuel cell research, Lieberman's goals to get fuel cell vehicles on the road are not feasible.