Bush to set goal of reducing U.S. gasoline use

WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush will ask the U.S. Congress on Tuesday to set a goal of reducing American gasoline consumption by 20 percent over 10 years, mostly through a nearly five-fold increase in use of home-grown fuels like ethanol by 2017.

In a preview of his State of the Union speech, White House deputy chief of staff Joel Kaplan said Bush wants to achieve the target through improved vehicle fuel standards and increased production of alternative fuels.

Bush’s “Twenty by Ten” strategy furthers a theme Bush has tried to drive home in his annual speeches since 2001 to cut U.S. dependence on crude oil imports. In a surprise pronouncement a year ago, Bush said that the United States was addicted to crude oil.

A rising focus on “energy security” by both the Bush administration and Congress has added momentum to efforts to employ home-grown fuel sources like ethanol to reduce U.S. dependency on oil imports.

About 60 percent of U.S. petroleum supplies currently come from imports.

Specifically, Bush will call for Congress to raise the renewable fuels standard to 35 billion gallons by 2017, and increase the scope of the program to include fuels like cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel and methanol. That alone would displace about 15 percent of annual U.S. gasoline use, the White House said.

The rest of the reduction would come from reforming U.S. automobile fuel efficiency standards, which could save about 8.5 billion gallons of gasoline in 2017, the White House said.

Current U.S. law requires 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuels to be mixed with gasoline supplies by 2012. U.S. renewable fuel consumption will likely reach that target ahead of schedule — biorefineries produced about 5 billion gallons of ethanol last year.

Bush will say Congress should not legislate a specific number for a revised fuel economy standard, but instead use a size-based system in order to avoid compromising vehicle safety by building smaller cars, Kaplan said.

Under Bush’s proposal the Environmental Protection Agency and Energy Department would be authorized to waive the renewable fuel requirements if they have unforeseen impacts on alternative fuels or feedstocks like corn and soybeans.

Energy Department officials say that a conservative limit of ethanol from corn is about 13 billion gallons. But the Bush administration wants to make fuel ethanol production from cellulosic materials like wood chips cost-competitive with corn-based ethanol by 2012, allowing for greater renewable fuel use.

Bush’s proposal is modest compared to some legislation on Capitol Hill.

A group of Midwest senators, including prospective presidential candidate and Illinois Democrat Barack Obama (news, bio, voting record), introduced the BioFuels Security Act, which would require fuel suppliers to use 60 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel a year in U.S. motor fuels by 2030.