WASHINGTON -- President Bush, a former oilman, is getting on the ethanol bandwagon.
In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, the president said he wants ethanol -- not just from corn but also from nonfood plants -- to be competitive with gasoline as a vehicle fuel within six years.
He told Congress and a national TV audience that the move to "this new kind of ethanol" is part of a plan to replace 75 percent of U.S. oil imports from the Middle East by 2025.
"America is addicted to oil," he said.
Bush's plan, which he called the Advanced Energy Initiative, also includes more government-funded research on hydrogen fuel. He called for better batteries for hybrid vehicles, which combine internal combustion engines and electric power.
Three years ago, Bush emphasized hydrogen fuel cells in his State of the Union message. But other options, such as ethanol, have gained ground in public discussions as more practical near-term alternatives to gasoline.
Automakers, especially General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler group, build hundreds of thousands of vehicles each year that can use a fuel called E85 as well as gasoline. E85 is 85 percent ethanol, a kind of alcohol, and 15 percent gasoline.
Critics call production of these flexible-fuel vehicles a phony move by car companies to earn credits that help them meet federal fuel economy standards. Most of the vehicles never burn anything but gasoline. Only about 600 filling stations, mostly in the corn-growing Midwest, offer E85.
But GM and Ford insist that E85 is a realistic alternative to gasoline. They seek ways to expand availability of and consumer demand for the fuel. Coalitions of interest groups, including environmentalists and national defense experts, have joined them.
Early reaction to Bush's plan called it too little and too long-term.
"The president offered a very modest proposal to reduce our dependence on foreign oil -- a promise he's made and broken in the past," said Jerome Ringo, president of a coalition called Apollo Alliance.
Jason Mark, clean-vehicles director of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said: "The president has admitted we're addicted to oil. There's no reason to drag that addiction out 20 years."
Last August, Congress passed a comprehensive energy bill that incorporated many Bush administration energy policies. But when gasoline prices soared in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, many officials and activists in Washington demanded more action.
You may e-mail Harry Stoffer at [email protected]