In his State of the Union address last week, President Bush said we must "change how we power our automobiles." And he delivered a clear message to the industry: Kick the oil habit.
Breaking this country's addiction to oil, the president said, will help reduce our dependence on the Middle East. His speech was, as it should have been, a good national pep talk.
But it should have been more. The president should have set some hard targets
He did highlight several solutions, such as hybrids, electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel. And he showed a keen interest in ethanol. The president's goal is to make ethanol a practical and competitive fuel source within six years.
As part of his Advanced Energy Initiative, President Bush called for a 22 percent increase in clean energy research at the Department of Energy.
The president wants ethanol to be produced not just from corn but also from nonfood plants. He told Congress and a national TV audience that the move to "this new kind of ethanol" is part of a plan to replace more than 75 percent of U.S. oil imports from the Middle East by 2025.
Developing more homegrown ethanol is a nice gesture, but the president's goal seems too little, too late. He should have promised a bigger and faster return on the tax dollars spent.
The government spent about $1.5 billion on the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles during the Clinton years -- and produced what? That program tried and failed to produce a commercially viable 80-mpg family car.
Now, the government is spending several hundred million dollars a year on fuel cells, hydrogen fuel and other clean energy. But just what will those expenditures deliver and when?