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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2007, 01:32 GMT
Bush critics seek more energy action
By Richard Allen Greene
BBC News, Washington

President George W Bush - an oilman by trade - surprised many people last year with his frank declaration that America was "addicted to oil", and that the country needed to break that addiction.

US President George W Bush gives his State of the Union address
Mr Bush talks about energy, but critics say he has done little
He made the startling comment in his annual State of the Union address to Congress.

But 12 months later, as the White House indicates Mr Bush will have yet more to say about energy in his 2007 State of the Union speech, critics say he has done little to keep last year's promises.

His 2006 speech was not the first time Mr Bush spoke about energy and the environment.

He has actually done so in every State of the Union address, the National Environmental Trust observes.

But "his climate and energy policies have never matched his State of the Union goals", says John Anthony, a spokesman for the green charity.

Measurable goals

Most presidents - the current one included - use their yearly speech to Congress to set out their hopes and goals for the coming year, often in general terms.

We will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy
President Bush's 2006 State of the Union address

But President Bush was unusually specific last year, promising increased funding for research into solar and wind technology, clean nuclear fuel, and ways of burning coal without producing emissions.

He also called for research into hybrid and electric cars, plus ways of producing fuel from corn and other crops.

And he called for the country to reduce its dependence on oil imports from the Middle East by 75% over the next 20 years.

He placed all those aims in the context of American "competitiveness", not the environment. (Variations on the word "compete" appeared 18 times in the speech; the word "environment" appeared once.)

Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, says the US has made no headway on any of those goals since last year.

"There has been no measurable progress on coal sequestration.

"There isn't a major proposal from the administration on nuclear power - and on solar and wind, all the president is doing is changing the schedule for reauthorising existing tax credits," he said.

And the goal of weaning the country off "Middle Eastern oil" may sound attractive to Americans, but in fact only 17% of American oil imports come from the region, the environmental group says.

The White House has so far not responded to these comments.

Underfunding

Jeff Bingaman, the top Democrat on the Senate's energy committee last year, criticised the president only weeks after the State of the Union speech.

Congress had passed an energy bill authorising substantial increases into funding for energy research.

But President Bush requested less money for research than Congress had allowed him to.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 called for $632m (320m) into renewable energy research, for example.

But Mr Bush asked for only $342m ($173m) - about the same amount that the Ben Stiller film Night at the Museum earned worldwide in its first three weeks.

The president also requested less than he could have done for research into hydrogen power, energy efficiency, and other areas, Senator Bingaman said in a February 2006 statement.

Price at the pump

Alongside all the debate about whether the president has done enough to meet his own stated goals into energy research, some experts question whether Mr Bush has even set the right goals.

Shell gas station in California, Jan 2007
The prices US drivers pay at the pump are relatively low
Robert Stavins is the director of the environmental economics programme at Harvard University.

"From an economic perspective, the best thing to do is get the prices right," he says, pointing out that the US has among the lowest prices at the pump of any developed nation.

The country's petrol prices do not reflect all of the costs of using oil, Mr Stavins argues, including emissions, congestion, and political dependence on unstable parts of the world.

He thinks increased petrol taxes are extremely unlikely: "They are the most difficult to increase of all because they are so visible."

But, he says, a cap-and-trade mechanism like the European Union's carbon-trading scheme could do the job equally well.

"If it's a well-designed cap-and-trade, it doesn't work any differently from a tax - but it doesn't have the word 'tax' in it."

The president is expected to mention "market-based incentives" for cutting carbon emissions, which most scientists say are contributing to climate change.

That could including a cap-and-trade system.

But, White House sources say, the president will not call for any mandatory measures on climate change or energy - likely leaving his environmental critics as dissatisfied as they were last year.




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