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Scepticism Over Bush's Call For Dramatic Cut In Mideast Oil Imports

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by Jean-Louis Doublet
Washington (AFP) Feb 01, 2006
US President George W. Bush has vowed his country will slash imports of Middle East oil by 2025 but has given only a vague outline of how he will change the gas-guzzling habits of Americans.

"Here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world," Bush said late Tuesday in the most headline-grabbing section of his annual State of the Union address to Congress.

"The best way to break this addiction is through technology," he said, calling for a 75 percent cut in US oil imports from the Middle East by 2025 to wean the United States off its reliance on energy from unstable regions.

Bush detailed modest increases in federal spending to research new technologies for generating power and for switching vehicles to cleaner fuels.

He mentioned the development of clean coal, solar and wind power, new work on cars powered by ethanol or hydrogen, and the revival of a nuclear energy programme.

Commentators said there was little new to the initiatives and noted that Bush had not outlined any ways to reduce consumption in the world's biggest energy-consuming nation, such as tougher emissions controls on cars.

"It was hardly the bold signal we've been waiting for through years of global warming and deadly struggles in the Middle East, where everything takes place in the context of what Mr. Bush rightly called our 'addiction' to imported oil," the New York Times said in an editorial.

"The president has never been serious about energy independence. Like so many of our leaders, he is content to acknowledge the problem and then offer up answers that do little to disturb the status quo," it said.

Bush called for ethanol to be made a commercially viable fuel for vehicles within six years. US production of the chemical compound nearly doubled between 1997 and 2004 to reach 3.4 billion gallons (12.9 billion litres).

But compared to the 140 billion gallons of gasoline (petrol) used each year by Americans, ethanol represents barely 2.5 percent of auto fuel.

"Well I guess if Brazil can do it with ethanol, why can't we?" Alaron Trading energy analyst Phil Flynn wrote in a sarcastic appraisal of Bush's proposals.

"The president says he will also fund research in cutting-edge methods of making ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips or switch grass. He left out cattle manure."

Bush outlined a 22 percent increase in funding for research on alternative energy sources such as clean coal, where polluting emissions are recaptured and stored.

He has often called for a new emphasis on nuclear energy, but that has proved problematic down the years since the Three Mile Island disaster of 1979. The country's 103 reactors have been in service an average of 24 years.

Wind power will account for no more than five percent of US energy needs by 2020, according to the most optimistic forecasts.

The Republican president's proposals risk upsetting his own political base, traditionally opposed to public subsidies.

"If those technologies have economic merit, no subsidy is necessary. If they don't, then no subsidy will provide it," said Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

Myron Ebell, director of energy policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said: "The president's dangerous rhetoric that we are addicted to oil is an indication that the administration is addicted to confused thinking about energy policies."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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