WASHINGTON – President Bush went on the road Wednesday to push energy initiatives from his State of the Union address by urging Americans to cut back on their dependence on gasoline.
“I made the case last night to the American people that we have go to do something about our dependence on oil," Bush said in Wilmington, Del. "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 toured the DuPont Experimental Station in Wilmington, the testing site for many of DuPont's new products. The company conducts fuel cell energy studies and tests biomaterials produced from renewable resources.
Bush used his trip to emphasize a key element of his speech — energy independence — and began a push to promote new technologies and initiatives outlined in his State of the Union speech. The president is scheduled to promote health care initiatives on Thursday.
The United States is too dependent on oil from overseas and poses a national security risk and problems for the environment, Bush said.
“You become vulnerable to the activity of a hostile regime” by depending on foreign oil resources, Bush said. The United States imports more than 60 percent of the oil it uses, a considerable amount of which comes from nations where a growing number of Islamic radicals are bent on undermining the U.S.
Bush emphasized several energy initiatives in his State of the Union address, acknowledging global climate change and asking Congress to help the United States break its oil addiction by enacting an initiative that would cut U.S. gasoline consumption by 20 percent in the next 10 years. To reach that goal, Bush called for setting a mandatory fuel standard for alternative and renewable gases to 35 billion gallons by 2017, nearly five times the current target.
Ethanol is already in use in retail gasoline. However, the president's new fuel standards would not be limited to ethanol use.
"We need to press on with battery research for plug-in and hybrid vehicles and expand the use of clean diesel vehicles and biodiesel fuel. We must continue investing in new methods of producing ethanol — using everything from wood chips, to grasses, to agricultural wastes," Bush said in his sixth annual joint session to Congress.
In Delaware, Bush urged the use of clean coal technology. Before departing on the trip, he signed an executive order that aims to increase the use of alternative fuels through development of more hybrid vehicles; reduce federal petroleum consumption in fleet vehicles by 2 percent a year through 2015; reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing energy intensity -- or the consumption of energy per demand for services -- by 3 percent each year over the next nine years.
Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Joel Kaplan said Tuesday that the government has spent $12 billion so far this budget year on advanced energy technologies. Much of government spending has been in conjunction with the private sector. Kaplan said Bush has stepped up his goal of increasing corn and cellulosic ethanol use because of private sector developments.
"The president is setting this goal so that investors, venture capitalists, researchers, scientists are all focused on that goal and can expedite and accelerate that technology. And we're optimistic that it can happen," Kaplan said.
On Wednesday, DuPont did not announce any technological breakthroughs to help achieve the goal of reducing gasoline usage by 20 percent over 10 years, but at the plant, Bush, who was joined by Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, toured a greenhouse that does cellulosic energy research.
In his speech Tuesday night, Bush also asked Congress for the authority to reform the Corporate Fuel Economy — or CAFE standards — for passenger cars to reduce usage without affecting safety by an additional 8.5 billion gallons in 10 years.
Added to that, the president called for stepping up domestic oil production in what aides call "environmentally sensitive ways." He also said he would seek to double the current capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve
While Democrats are cautiously optimistic about the president's plans to expand ethanol use, some noted that Bush must also put pressure on the oil companies to help get alternative fuels into consumers' hands.
• Photo Essay: State of the Union AddressA Lukewarm Response in the House Chamber
Not so optimistic was the Democratic-led Congress' outlook on the war in Iraq. To that end, Bush pleaded Tuesday night for members of both parties to follow his lead and give his latest plan to end the sectarian violence in Iraq "a chance to work."
With opinion polls showing his approval ratings at an all-time low and with some members of his own party expressing opposition to his plan, Bush acknowledged that the war in Iraq is not the same one the U.S. entered into nearly four years ago.
But the president said that abandoning that country to insurgents would be a nightmare for the United States.
"Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq and I ask you to give it a chance to work. And I ask you to support our troops in the field and those on their way," Bush said.
Bush vowed to press on because to leave Iraq before securing Baghdad would lead to "an epic battle by extremists backed by Iran and Sunni extremists aided by Al Qaeda and supporters of the old regime."
"This is where matters stand tonight, in the here and now. I have spoken with many of you in person. I respect you and the arguments you have made. We went into this largely united — in our assumptions, and in our convictions. And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure," he said.
Bush introduced a new strategy for Iraq on Jan. 10 that calls for an additional 21,500 U.S. troops to help secure Baghdad while placing additional requirements on the Iraqi government to find a political solution. Noting a war-weary nation and public opposition to a buildup, Bush warned in his speech that the United States "must not fail in Iraq" because to do would have far-reaching consequences.
"I chose this course of action because it provides the best chance of success. Many in this chamber understand that America must not fail in Iraq — because you understand that the consequences of failure would be grievous and far reaching," the president said.
Two lawmakers on either side of the aisle defended Bush's decision not to alter his position on Iraq.
"He believes that he's doing what he thinks is right for the country. And I agree with him in this case," Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., told FOX News. "He also said let's give it a chance to work, and I think that's the right attitude."
Lieberman also expressed concerns over a resolution some senators are supporting to express doubts over Bush's Iraq war plan.
"So long as we can still win, which I believe we can, then we've got to do everything we can to make that possible. And I'm surprised that there aren't some more of my fellow Democrats who are taking this position," Lieberman said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also said he supported Bush's plan.
"It will be chaos in the region, and I think we have a chance to avoid that, I think we have a chance, good chance of success, and I think we've got the right strategy, which we did not have for a long time," McCain said.
But Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, said the administration has no consequences to impose on the Iraqi government if it fails to reach political solutions while the United States escalates its military engagement.
"How can we genuinely change the course in Iraq and that's going to require us issuing a phased redeployment of troops? Every expert (who has spoken to the committee) has said that has the most promise," Obama said.
In a speech that started with domestic issues, a nod to the president's low approval ratings and his first State of the Union speech to a congressional Democratic majority, Bush began by noting the historic occasion — the first time the president's address was introduced by a female House speaker.
"Tonight, I have a high privilege and distinct honor of my own — as the first President to begin the State of the Union message with these words: Madame Speaker," Bush said.
In trying to seek bipartisanship where he could find it, the president also sent well wishes to two lawmakers — Republican Rep. Charlie Norwood and Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, both absent because of medical problems.
While the chamber seemed polite and respectful with few Democratic catcalls — reportedly on the orders of Pelosi — Bush spoke to a frequently dead-quiet room, in which he had opportunity to make his case if not the force to win over any converts.
One area in which lawmakers could agree was on the warning from Bush that America's enemies have not put down their weapons and have every intention of continuing to terrorize the United States and U.S. interests. But where the president and lawmakers differ is over a belief in the president's pursuit for an ongoing military campaign in Iraq.
Freshman Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who delivered the Democratic response, said Democrats do not believe a troop increase in Iraq is in the national interest.
"We need a new direction," he said. "The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military."
Webb also blasted Bush and other administration officials for what he called mismanagement of the war and entry into Iraq when the U.S. should have paid more energy and attention to the greater War on Terror.
"The president took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from ... many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs. We are now, as a nation, are held hostage to the predictable — and predicted — disarray that has followed," Webb said.
"The war's costs to our nation have been staggering. Financially, the damage to our reputation around the world, the lost opportunities to defeat the forces of international terrorism and especially the precious blood of our citizens who have stepped forward to serve," he said, adding that he doesn't want "a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos" but also favors a "formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq."
Bush admitted that he too wishes the war in Iraq had come to an end by now.
"Every one of us wishes that this war were over and won. Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned and our own security at risk. Ladies and gentlemen: On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. So let us find our resolve and turn events toward victory," Bush said.
Bush also noted that while the American public may have lost the will to continue fighting in Iraq, "Islamist radicals" have not, and are willing to take the war to U.S. shores if given the chance.
"In the sixth year since our nation was attacked, I wish I could report to you that the dangers have ended. They have not. And so it remains the policy of this government to use every lawful and proper tool of intelligence, diplomacy, law enforcement and military action to do our duty, to find these enemies and to protect the American people," he said.
Taking a cue from House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, who on Monday suggested a special House committee to consider benchmarks for measuring successes in Iraq, Bush also proposed an advisory council to suggest ways to deal with the broader War on Terror.
"Both parties and both branches should work in close consultation. And this is why I propose to establish a special advisory council on the War on Terror, made up of leaders in Congress from both political parties. We will share ideas for how to position America to meet every challenge that confronts us. And we will show our enemies abroad that we are united in the goal of victory," Bush said.