WILMINGTON - President Bush, trying to add urgency to his shrinking domestic agenda, said yesterday that America would be held hostage by oil if it did not change its habits.
"Dependence on oil provides an economic and national security risk, a problem that this country better start dealing with in a serious fashion - now," Bush said in a speech to employees of DuPont Co., a chemical giant and leading researcher of energy alternatives.
The president used a quick trip to Delaware to promote biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol, which can be made from wood chips, switchgrass, and corn-plant parts such as stalks and leaves.
Ramping up production of alternative fuels is one way Bush says the nation can cut consumption of gasoline by up to 20 percent over 10 years. The other key element of Bush's plan, as outlined in his State of the Union speech Tuesday, is higher fuel-economy standards for vehicles.
Bush cast the energy debate in terms of terrorism, depicting scenarios in which oil-rich enemies could disrupt the United States by targeting its reliance on gas-powered vehicles.
"If a terrorist were able to destroy infrastructure somewhere else in the world, it's going to affect what you pay for at the gasoline pump," Bush said at the Hotel DuPont.
Bush signed an executive order that calls on the federal government to use more alternative fuels and less petroleum - a way for the administration to set an example with its agencies.
Some lawmakers appeared receptive to Bush's energy ideas, but environmentalists and other critics described the president's approach as belated and limited.
He is also up against several forces in the final quarter of his presidency: a vastly unpopular war, a Democratic Congress, and low approval ratings.
The administration yesterday proposed to spend $1.6 billion on ethanol as part of Bush's goal to sharply reduce gasoline usage over the next decade.
The funding will help develop new sources of ethanol, which now comes mostly from corn.
Demand for ethanol has been driving up the cost of corn, making it more expensive to feed cows, chickens and pigs, and raising concern in the livestock industry. Beef, dairy, pork and poultry groups are asking the Agriculture Department to study ethanol's effects on their costs.
Meantime, the administration is asking Congress for the power to set high fuel-efficiency standards for cars, using a system it says will preserve choices and safety for customers. But it opposes any legislation that would simply set a higher fuel-economy standard.
Bush also has not endorsed proposals for mandatory reductions of greenhouse-gas emissions.
DuPont was one of the corporations that urged Congress this week to require limits on such greenhouse gases, contending that voluntary efforts to combat climate change were not enough.
"President Bush has never looked more out of step on global warming," said Kevin Curtis, senior vice president for the National Environmental Trust. "Companies like DuPont realize that limits on heat-trapping pollution are coming, and they want to start planning today."
World leaders praised President Bush yesterday for taking a step forward on global warming in his State of the Union address, but they added that concrete goals were needed to significantly cut greenhouse gases.
Bush's ideas on Iraq fell largely flat, however, amid criticism that his plan to send more troops did not offer anything new.
"His remarks about climate change, his willingness
to reduce energy consumption and to support alternative energy sources, will be welcomed in Europe in general, and in Germany especially," said Karsten Voigt, coordinator for Germany's ties with the United States.
Prime Minister Tony Blair
of Britain, who has urged the United States to do more on climate change, told the House of Commons he was optimistic after hearing the speech. "I do believe this whole debate is now moving in a completely different and more positive direction," Blair said.
The goals set by Bush are an important step, but he also needs to ensure that they are implemented, James Cameron, chief executive of Britain's Climate Change Capital, said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
But others said that in failing to set specific targets for energy consumption, Bush did not do enough to make an impact in the fight against global warming.
"It could have been even better if he had had more things to offer in relation to what American households and companies should do more of," said Danish Environment Minister Connie Hedegaard.
- Associated Press