Bush pledges to cut oil use in US

Washington, January 24:

The Bush administration embarked on an ambitious plan to confront America’s love affair with oil by setting a target for a huge reduction in consumption over the next 10 years.

Joel Kaplan, White House deputy chief of staff, told reporters in a briefing hours before George Bush’s annual state of the union address that the president wanted Americans to cut petrol consumption by up to 20 per cent by 2017. The move comes a year after Mr Bush described Americans as being “addicted to oil”.

Bush has not suddenly gone green: he remains sceptical about climate change, continuing to insist that the case has still to be made on global warming. His proposal is motivated by security concerns - the US’s dependence on oil from the volatile Middle East.

The president hopes the goal can be achieved through a sharp rise in alternative energy sources, primarily ethanol, that the government would mandate to be produced. The rest of the reduction would come from raising fuel economy standards for passenger cars, which have not been revised since 1990.

His enthusiasm for ethanol is shared by American farmers and Republicans representing heavily agricultural states.

But there will be scepticism among congressmen about whether his target is realistic. Bush needs the support of Congress to get his plan put in place, but the mood on Capitol Hill towards White House has been poisoned by Iraq war, in particular his 21,500 troop increase a fortnight ago.

In the hours before he was due to deliver his state of the union address, the main focus on Capitol Hill was not his domestic agenda but a Democratic move, supported by dissident Republicans, to adopt a resolution critical of the troop increase.

While the White House said Bush would devote part of his speech to Congress to defending his Iraq strategy, the administration hoped the war would not overshadow a domestic agenda that includes, in addition to energy, proposals on health, education and immigration.

Americans enjoy extremely cheap petrol, roughly half the price charged at European pumps. Currently, 46 per cent of petrol sold in the US contains about 10 per cent ethanol.

Kaplan said the president was proposing to set the amount of ethanol and other alternative fuels that must be mixed into the fuel supply at 35 billion gallons by 2017, up from 7.5 billion gallons in 2012. He also wants to expand the standard to include not just ethanol but a wide range of oil alternatives, such as biodiesel, methanol, butanol and hydrogen, he said. There is a question mark over whether American farmers can meet the amounts envisaged by the White House.

The president’s initiative comes as scientific sources told Reuters that a UN climate panel, to report next week in Paris, will predict that by 2100 global warming, blamed on humans, will bring more droughts, floods and rising seas.

The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may bring some good news, however, by toning down predictions of the biggest temperature and sea level rises projected in the IPCC’s previous 2001 study, the sources said. But it will also revise up its lowest projections.