Left And Right "Blurred" By Bush Energy Vision
Most everyone agrees that President George W. Bush must find common ground with congressional Democrats -- not to mention disaffected Republicans. But after last night's State of the Union address, several polarized camps seem to agree on only one thing: disappointment when it comes to solving America's energy problems.
Bush exhorted Americans last night to slash their use of gasoline by 20% over ten years. The commander-in-chief called for specific moves that include: Federal mandates to quadruple the production of alternative fuels by 2017; upping fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles; and doubling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to 1.5 billion barrels of oil by 2027.
Ben Lieberman, senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, told CNBC's Mark Haines that "the key word was 'mandate'." The foundation, which champions private-sector deregulation, sees Bush's initiative as merely forcing Americans into ever-costlier fuel options -- while "crossing your fingers" that consumption will eventually bring the energy market back to equilibrium. Lieberman did praise the expansion of the SPR as a "good insurance policy" against some unknowable future catastrophe.
Joseph Romm agreed with Lieberman that the speech was flawed -- albeit for different reasons. Romm, who serves as senior fellow at the moderate-liberal Center for American Progess, chided the White House for the SPR buildup, which he called "kind of pointless." He said it takes attention away from the need for things like plug-in hybrid vehicles -- which Bush mentioned in his speech, but not strongly enough, according to the senior fellow.
Romm also differed from Lieberman in praising the Bush mandate call: Romm declared that no nation has been able to lower gasoline consumption without such mandates. And he believes that once the Federal government sparks alternative-fuel research and production, the free market will decide which gas replacement is best.
The current renewable-fuels standard was set in 2005, when Bush signed into law mandates obligating refiners to blend 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol into the U.S. fuel supply by 2012. Market analyst Charles Morand says a fuel evolution shaped by Bush's proposals will take the form of mostly corn-based ethanol for the near future, with coal-to-liquids beginning in the latter half of 2010 and cellulosic (non-corn) ethanol in about 2012.