President Bush acknowledged America's reliance on oil Tuesday night, but his proposals will do nothing to curb today's high energy costs and are likely to make only a modest dent on oil imports — even in the long run.
In his State of the Union address, Bush outlined plans to increase federal spending on research into alternative motor fuels and to set "a national goal" of replacing 75 percent of the oil now imported from the Middle East.
But the president's litany of initiatives is similar to what he has long touted and reflects many of the same alternative fuel proposals included in a broad energy bill he signed into law last summer.
As he often has in the past, Bush renewed his call to develop hydrogen-fueled vehicles, a technology most energy experts say will not be ready for two or three decades, if then.
Saying the country must go beyond a petroleum-based economy, Bush said he would provide in his fiscal 2007 budget next week more money for research into the production of ethanol from sources other than corn and for development of other bio-based fuel derived from agricultural wastes, wood chips, weeds and even cooking oil.
He said he wanted to expand research into better batteries for electric-gas hybrid cars, including those that could be plugged into home electric sources to be recharged.
The budget will include $150 million, a $59 million increase, to help develop such biofuels, according to the White House, where officials distributed a fact sheet saying "cellulosic" ethanol and other biofuels could account for nearly a third of the motor fuel used by 2012.
Bush "mapped out an expanded strategy in alternative energy," said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, adding, "We aren't going to displace foreign oil next year, but the president is moving us the right direction and he's picked up the pace."
However, the energy legislation Congress passed last year already includes a requirement to sharply increase use of corn-based ethanol to 7.5 million gallons a year and authorizes a program to develop a market for cellulosic ethanol by 2015.
While alternative fuels could make a dent in the demand for oil, such programs by themselves are unlikely to have a dramatic impact on oil imports, energy experts say.
"Like many of the fundamental challenges before us, there is no one solution. You need a portfolio of things" to wean the country away from oil, said Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University.
To curb foreign oil use, Profeta said, requires development of alternative fuels as well as changes in how people travel, and improvements in automobiles' fuel efficiency.
The U.S. used 20.1 million barrels of oil a day in 2004, with 58.5 percent from imports, according to the Energy Department. About 19 percent comes from the Persian Gulf.
It was unclear how Bush would achieve his goal of cutting oil imports from the Middle East. While he bemoaned dependence on oil from politically volatile regions, his stated goal ignores U.S. reliance on imports from such countries as Venezuela and Nigeria where there also has been turmoil.
The Energy Information Administration recently estimated that even if there is a growth in the use of gas-electric hybrids and other conservation efforts, the U.S. in 2025 will still get 60 percent of its oil from imports, including oil from the Middle East.