MILWAUKEE — Saying the nation is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that would “startle” most Americans, President Bush on Monday outlined his energy proposals to help wean the country off foreign oil.
Less than half the crude oil used by refineries is produced in the United States, while 60 percent comes from foreign nations, Bush said during the first stop on a two-day trip to talk about energy.
Some of these foreign suppliers have “unstable” governments that have fundamental differences with America, he said.
“It creates a national security issue and we’re held hostage for energy by foreign nations that may not like us,” Bush said.
Bush is focusing on energy at a time when Americans are paying high power bills to heat their homes this winter and have only recently seen a decrease in gasoline prices.
One of Bush’s proposals would expand research into smaller, longer-lasting batteries for electric-gas hybrid cars, including plug-ins. He highlighted that initiative with a visit Monday to the battery center at Milwaukee-based auto-parts supplier Johnson Controls Inc.
During his trip, Bush is also focusing on a proposal to increase investment in development of clean electric power sources, and proposals to speed the development of biofuels such as “cellulosic” ethanol made from wood chips or sawgrass.
Energy conservation groups and environmentalists say they’re pleased that the president, a former oil man in Texas, is stressing alternative sources of energy, but they contend his proposals don’t go far enough. They say the administration must consider greater fuel-efficiency standards for cars, and some economists believe it’s best to increase the gas tax to force consumers to change their driving habits.
During his visit to Johnson Controls’ new hybrid battery laboratory, Bush checked out two Ford Escapes — one with a nickel-metal-hybrid battery, the kind that powers most hybrid-electric vehicles, and one with a lithium-ion battery, which Johnson Controls believes are the wave of the future. The lithium-ion battery was about half the size of the older-model battery. In 2004, Johnson Controls received a government contract to develop the lithium-ion batteries.
On Tuesday, Bush plans to visit the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., to talk about speeding the development of biofuels.
$5 million transferred to save jobs
The lab, with a looming $28 million budget shortfall, had announced it was cutting its staff by 32 people, including eight researchers. But in advance of Bush’s visit, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman over the weekend directed the transfer of $5 million to the private contractor that runs the lab, so the jobs can be saved.
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The department “has been informed that the NREL lab director will use these funds to immediately restore all of the jobs that were cut earlier this month due to budget shortfalls,” the department said in a statement Monday.
“Our nation is on the threshold of new energy technology that I think will startle the American people,” Bush said. “We’re on the edge of some amazing breakthroughs — breakthroughs all aimed at enhancing our national security and our economic security and the quality of life of the folks who live here in the United States.”
Later Monday, Bush visited the United Solar Ovonics Plant, which makes solar panels, in Auburn Hills, Mich., outside Detroit. “This technology right here is going to help us change the way we live in our homes,” Bush told reporters.
Bush said he was impressed with the growing commercial uses of solar energy.
“Roof makers will one day be able to make a solar roof that protects you from the elements and at the same time, powers your house,” Bush said. “The vision is this — that technology will become so efficient that you’ll become a little power generator in your home, and if you don’t use the energy you generate you’ll be able to feed it back into the electricity grid.”
Support for SUVs
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., questioned Bush’s energy policies Monday, saying the administration also supports subsidies for luxury SUVs.
“This single tax subsidy dwarfs anything being done for hybrid batteries,” Markey said in a news release.
As a complement to Bush’s travels, six Cabinet officials are crisscrossing the nation this week, appearing at more than two dozen energy events in more than a dozen states.
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