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Bush Calls for Cuts in Oil Reliance

He says dependence on the Middle East should become 'a thing of the past.' His promotion of different fuels is part of a renewed domestic agenda.

February 01, 2006|Doyle McManus | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush warned Tuesday that the United States had become "addicted to oil," much of it coming from unstable parts of the world, and called for a 20-year national effort to develop new sources of energy to replace imported fuel.

In his annual State of the Union message, this one at the beginning of the sixth year of his presidency, Bush delivered an unapologetic defense of his national security policies, from the continuing war in Iraq to increased electronic surveillance of communications at home.

The president also proposed a flurry of domestic initiatives -- on energy, education and healthcare -- that he said would help keep the United States competitive in the global economy.

White House aides said Bush was mindful that his standing had sagged in public opinion surveys largely because of public disquiet about the economy, healthcare and education -- issues on which most voters say they trust Democrats more than they trust the president.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 02, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 64 words Type of Material: Correction
State of the Union rebuttal -- An article in Wednesday's Section A about the Democrats' rebuttal to the State of the Union address and a related caption on the front page said that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was in Hancock Park while delivering his response to President Bush. Villaraigosa spoke from the Getty House, the mayor's official residence, which is in Windsor Square.

In a year when Republicans in Congress face a tough campaign to maintain their control of both houses, the president sought to assure voters that he understood what one aide called their "angst."

"It's ... unsettling for the American people to grapple with the rising cost of energy, the rising cost of healthcare," White House counselor Dan Bartlett told reporters shortly before the speech. "The dynamic aspect of our economy, where jobs are constantly being created and lost ... the rising competition of global players on the economic scene, such as China and India, all give a level of angst."

In their official responses, Democrats accused Bush of "poor choices and bad management," and they called on voters to replace the Republican congressional leadership this fall.

"Over the past five years, we've gone from huge surpluses to massive deficits," Virginia's newly elected Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said. "No parent makes their child pay the mortgage. Why should we allow this administration to pass down the bill for its reckless spending to our children and grandchildren?"

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, delivering a second Democratic response in Spanish, charged: "Under this administration, 4 million people have fallen from the working class into the ranks of the poor, and the new jobs that are being created pay less than the ones we've lost." In an echo of Bush, he called for "an aggressive national strategy ... to promote America's competitiveness in the global economy."

Bush presented his new proposals on energy, education and healthcare as part of a drive to make the U.S. economy more competitive.

"The American economy is preeminent, but we cannot afford to be complacent," he said. "In a dynamic world economy, we are seeing new competitors like China and India. This creates uncertainty, which makes it easier to feed people's fears.... Americans should not fear our economic future, because we intend to shape it."

On energy, the president -- a former oilman from Texas whose first-term energy policies emphasized promoting more oil exploration and refining -- said it was time for the United States to "move beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past."

He said he would ask Congress to fund a 22% increase in federal energy research to focus on cleaner coal-fired plants, nuclear energy, hydrogen fuel cells, better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and ethanol made from agricultural waste.

The federal government has long subsidized the manufacture of ethanol, a fuel made from corn that can be blended with gasoline, but ethanol constitutes only about 2% of fuel sold in the United States. Bush said that with new research, ethanol could also be derived efficiently from wood chips, wheat stalks and other sources.

"Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years," he said.

His proposal drew mixed responses from energy experts and environmentalists.

"If you want to talk about a Manhattan Project investment in alternative fuel sources for transportation, I'll stand up and cheer," said Severin Borenstein, an energy economist at UC Berkeley who has been critical of the administration's earlier energy policies. "I think that's money very well spent.... But the funding increase for clean energy research is shockingly small. [This is] hardly the Manhattan Project equivalent on energy that we need."

Borenstein said that Bush's call to reduce U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil by 75% was less dramatic than it may sound. The United States imports about 60% of its oil from other countries, but less than one-fifth of those imports comes from the Middle East. That amounts to roughly 10% of total U.S. oil consumption.

But Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said he welcomed Bush's "recognition ... that we can't go on indefinitely depending on petroleum. That's not what he was saying when he became president."

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