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Bush calls for cleaner federal vehicles

His order for more hybrid, alternative fuel transportation raises concerns in California.

January 25, 2007|James Gerstenzang and Janet Wilson | Times Staff Writers

WILMINGTON, DEL. — President Bush ordered the federal government Wednesday to move toward purchasing hybrid-powered vehicles and reducing the federal fleet's petroleum consumption by 2% each year, part of an effort to boost alternatives to gasoline.

Bush announced the executive order during a morning devoted to promoting new-technology fuels. In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, he set a goal of reducing the nation's gasoline consumption by 20% over 10 years, mainly by boosting ethanol production and toughening mileage standards for cars and light trucks.

In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's senior environment and energy advisors said they had major concerns about Bush's strategy -- saying his proposals to increase the use of alternative fuels could sharply increase greenhouse gas emissions by opening the door to heavily polluting oil shale, tar sands and coal.

They also worried about California's low-carbon fuel policy being preempted by federal proposals.

While emphasizing that they were still studying Bush's plans, California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Linda S. Adams, California Air Resources Board Chairman Robert F. Sawyer and other officials said that the state's program for reducing the use of traditional fuels does not call for increased use of any particular alternative fuel, such as ethanol. Instead, they said, it lets the market decide if ethanol, plug-in or hybrid vehicles or other biofuels should be used to reach the state's goals.

Sawyer said that, depending on how it's produced, ethanol can have either a negligible or a very substantial effect on greenhouse gas emissions. Other fuels could be even worse, he said.

"We're concerned some of the alternatives, such as tar sands, coal and oil shale -- these sources of alternative fuels can increase [greenhouse gas] emissions as much as a factor of two over petroleum. So, we view that as a very negative direction to go in," Sawyer said.

Adams and Dan Skopec, undersecretary of the state EPA, expressed concern that existing federal renewable fuels mandates on refineries, combined with Bush's new policies, could be implemented in ways that would preempt California's landmark greenhouse gas law, which requires a 25% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

"It will potentially be problematic, and of course it depends on what the president proposes, and what Congress chooses to act on. So, the devil will be in the details on this issue of renewable fuels," Skopec said.

In Delaware, Bush toured a research center at DuPont, the international chemical company. Scientists there are working to develop cellulosic ethanol, a fuel brewed from various forms of vegetative growth -- woodchips, weed-like switch grass and corn stalks, for example, rather than the corn kernels that are now used to produce ethanol.

Bush said he was directing the government to purchase plug-in hybrid vehicles, if they become commercially available, and to purchase other hybrid and flexible-fuel vehicles that can use ethanol.

Bush also urged pressing ahead with the revitalization of the nation's nuclear power industry, and with offshore drilling for deep pockets of gas, which he said could be conducted in an "environmentally friendly way." Nuclear energy, he said, is "going to be good for your children. It's going to make us less dependent on natural gas from overseas, and it's going to make us better stewards of the environment."


Gerstenzang reported from Wilmington and Wilson from Los Angeles.

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