Petroleum Propaganda

by Tim Mosso | 2/7/06 6:00am

In his State of the Union address, President George Bush announced, "We have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil." Apparently, we were supposed to react to this revelation with astonishment. Either Bush really was the last person in the entire nation to recognize the oil problem, or he just used political Pig Latin to tell us what his administration thinks of our intelligence.

President Bush has less credibility on energy reform than anyone not named al-Saud. Even if you ignore Bush's oil fortune, his family connections to those very same Saudis and the millions spent on political access by energy and automotive interests, the man must still answer for his track record on the oil issue. In terms of automotive energy reform, the disparities between Bush's rhetoric and his actions are damning.

Consider his record on automotive fuel issues. Transportation accounts for over two-thirds of U.S. energy consumption, and automobiles comprise the largest portion of that energy use. In May of 2001, Bush announced, "In the long term, not only will we increase the [oil] supplies...we'll have new types of automobiles: hybrids." At the time of this declaration, Bush was working to let automakers out of their obligations under the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles. This Clinton-era program been conceived in the early '90s as a compromise that would force General Motors, Ford and Daimler Chrysler to sell 80 mile-per-gallon hybrids by 2004 in exchange for delays on fuel economy legislation. The prototypes were achieving over 70 mpg by 2001 -- when Bush publicly declared the need for hybrids, but quietly scuttled the PNGV program.

In 2002, Bush instructed the Justice Department to go to bat for an auto industry alliance that was suing the State of California. Under state laws announced in 1990, automakers would be required to ensure that 10 percent of the vehicles sold in California were oil-independent by 2003 (moved to 2008 due to industry protests). In 1998, the automakers decided to stall and hope for a Republican victory in 2000.

It was ironic to see Bush, a former partner in the Texas Rangers, step in to get the save for Detroit. More ironic was the Bush administration's use of federal power to overrule state legislators. The effect of this action was to relegate alternative fuels to the realm of auto shows and staged political photo ops.

By 2003, it was clear that Bush had no intention of pursuing automotive energy independence. That year, federal legislation opened the now infamous two-year SUV loophole that allowed up to $100,000 in tax deductions on huge trucks -- but only if you could prove that your Hummer really was used for emergency re-supply missions to Krispy Kreme during office hours.

If last week's speech sounded familiar, it was because Bush also announced during his 2003 address that fuel cells should be the auto industry priority. At this point, he may as well have added that cars should use Zero Point Modules for power and travel through wormholes.

Fuel cell technology itself is so far from consumer hands, to say nothing of the challenges of extracting hydrogen or replacing literally all the fuel infrastructure in the country, Bush would need to allocate tens of billions of dollars to make it a practical reality before 2020. Instead, the president proposed $1.2 billion, to be spent over several years -- pennies for the auto industry. An automaker will spend twice this amount to develop a single model of pickup truck. If fuel cell technology were more than a stalling tactic, why so little funding? Remember, PNGV had produced actual cars.

In 2005, the Bush administration proposed changes to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy laws. In a classic case of lying with statistics, administration officials touted potential gas savings of up to ten billion gallons over a period of years. They declined to mention American drivers' annual fuel consumption of 140 billion gallons or the fact that the period in question could extend to 15 years. Bush stated in his 2002 address, "While the price of freedom and security is high, it is never too high." If this is true, why not call for real sacrifices and implement a dramatic increase in fuel economy requirements?

Can we take Bush seriously when he talks about reducing dependence on Middle Eastern oil by 75 percent by 2025? This is the man who announced that we would have a base on the moon by 2020. Unless there is oil on the moon, Bush is unlikely to achieve either goal.

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