Bush: Cut Gas Use 20 Percent by 2017

As he did in last year's State of the Union Address, President George Bush discussed the need to end the nation's dependence on imported oil and outlined a rather ambitious plan to reduce the nation's gasoline consumption by 20 percent over the next ten years.

“It is in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply - and the way forward is through technology,'' Bush said Tuesday night in his State of the Union address before Congress.


The President's plan calls for tougher new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards by roughly four percent per year and significant mandates increasing the availability of vehicles that run on alternative fuels.

Bush also had talked about the need to wind down the nation's dependence on imported oil in the 2006 State of the Union address, suggesting that energy independence ought to be one of the nation's top priorities. The speech succeeded in focusing more attention on the potential of ethanol as a motor fuel and helped spur some new investment in ethanol production.

Detroit's automakers also quickly adopted ethanol as one of the potential remedies for the nation's dependence on imported oil. Thus, while they would have liked to have a bigger commitment on other things such as battery research, the automakers were generally supportive the initiatives outlined by the President in the 2007 State of the Union address.

"Ford supports reducing gasoline usage through an increase in alternative fuels such as ethanol," said Ziad Ojakli, group vice president, Government Affairs, Ford Motor Company. “We have produced almost two million flex-fuel vehicles, with ethanol capability. In addition, we have announced plans to make half our annual vehicle production flexible-fuel capable by 2012, provided E85 fuel is available to our customers," he added.

Max Gates, spokesman for DaimlerChrysler, noted the German-American automaker had been a leader in promoting use of clean renewable biodiesel in its diesel vehicles, including delivering new diesel vehicles to our customers. "We are actively working with industry partners for a national standard for B20 fuel (20 percent biodiesel) to increase the use of this fuel," Gates said.

General Motors spokesman Tom Wilkinson said Tuesday the nation’s largest automaker has been stressing the need for energy diversity for nearly a year. The company launched a new effort to increase the use of ethanol as a motor fuel last February and has showed plug-in hybrid vehicles that run on lithium-ion batteries at recent auto shows in Los Angeles and Detroit.

"We believe that, going forward, it’s highly unlikely that oil alone will supply all of the world’s rapidly growing automotive energy requirements," GM CEO Rick Wagoner said in a speech last week. "And in our view, the key is energy diversity. At GM, this means that we’ll continue to improve the efficiency of the internal combustion engine, as we have for decades," Wagoner added.

"But it also means we’ll dramatically intensify our efforts to displace petroleum-based fuels… by building a lot more vehicles that run on alternatives, such as E85 ethanol…and, very importantly, by significantly expanding and accelerating our commitment to the development of electrically driven vehicles," he said.

"One of the things that government can do… and, I’d argue, one of the things that government has to do to really promote energy diversity… is proactively support the development of alternative fuel technology… whether that’s ethanol, or fuel cells, or advanced batteries…and “incentivize” consumers…through tax credits, fuel subsidies, and so on…to adopt these exciting new technologies in a big way," Wagoner said.

The automakers, however, reacted coolly to the President's call for another round of increases in CAFE standards.

“We plan to work with the White House and Congress to make sure any changes are technically feasible and don’t penalize full-line manufacturers like GM,” Wilkinson said.


"Ford believes the passenger car CAFE system should follow the NHTSA’s successful reform of the light-truck CAFE system. We support equitable passenger car CAFE reform by the NHTSA with standards set at maximum feasible levels," Ford’s Ojakli said.

David Friedman, research director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, which supports tougher standards, suggested the President’s recommendation could serve as a starting point for imposing even tougher fuel-economy standards. Several proposals circulating in Congress call for much tougher standards than those recommended by President Bush.

“This will only be a breakthrough if the president and Congress work together to pass a law guaranteeing that this goal becomes reality, while avoiding loopholes and escape clauses,'' said Friedman.

“The President assumes that fuel economy will increase but fails to order an increase when a 40-mpg standard is the single biggest step we could take to curb global warming and end oil dependence. We would be less dubious of the president's intentions if he had promised to raise the standards instead of assuming that they will rise four percent a year," added Carl Becker of the Sierra Club.

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