Bush to Propose Reducing Gasoline Consumption

By Peter Baker and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 23, 2007; 5:28 PM

President Bush will propose reducing gasoline consumption in the United States by 20 percent over the next 10 years through a dramatic expansion of ethanol use and tougher fuel economy standards, the White House said in previewing tonight's State of the Union address.

"Extending hope and opportunity depends on a stable supply of energy that keeps America's economy running and America's environment clean," Bush will tell the nation, according to speech excerpts released by the White House. "For too long our nation has been dependent on foreign oil. And this dependence leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes, and to terrorists -- who could cause huge disruptions of oil shipments, raise the price of oil and do great harm to our economy. It is in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply -- and the way forward is through technology."

Under Bush's plan, which the White House has dubbed "Twenty in Ten," three-quarters of the reduction in consumption would come by increasing the mandated use of ethanol and other alternatives to oil. The federal government would require that 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels be used annually by 2017, nearly five times the 7.5 billion gallon mandate now set for 2012. The aim is to displace 15 percent of projected annual gasoline use in 2017.

The rest of the decreased gasoline consumption would come through additional authority for the administration to change the minimum required fuel economy for cars as it has for light trucks over the next decade. The White House said the plan would reduce gasoline consumption by up to 8.5 billion gallons a year in 2017, a 5 percent reduction in the current projected consumption in that year.

In a series of fact sheets previewing tonight's State of the Union address, the White House also said Bush's energy plan includes "stepping up domestic oil production in environmentally sensitive ways" and doubling the size of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to 1.5 billion barrels by 2027. The doubling of the reserve's capacity would be enough to provide 97 days of supplies in the event of disruption of foreign oil imports.

The energy plan represented the major remaining surprise in a speech that will also advance new and recycled proposals on health care, immigration and education and will allow the president to defend his decision to send more U.S. troops to Iraq. Bush will address both houses of Congress and a national television audience from the lectern in the House chamber starting at 9 p.m. EST.

In pitching his troop buildup in Iraq as "the best way to succeed" in the war-ravaged country, Bush will propose establishing a "special advisory council on the War on Terror made up of leaders in Congress from both political parties," the White House said.

Bush will say that he and U.S. military commanders "have carefully weighed the options," according to excerpts of his speech defending his troop-increase plan. "We discussed every possible approach. In the end, I chose this course of action because it provides the best chance of success. Many in this chamber understand that America must not fail in Iraq -- because you understand that the consequences of failure would be grievous and far-reaching."

He will stress the importance of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans and between the executive and legislative branches "so our nation can see this great effort through." The special advisory council "will share ideas for how to position America to meet every challenge that confronts us," Bush plans to say. "And we will show our enemies abroad that we are united in the goal of victory."

However, Democrats showed no signs today of softening their opposition to Bush's plan, which has also run into strong skepticism from a number of Republican lawmakers.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense in the type of sectarian violence that's going on to simply put American troops in the middle of it," said Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), who is scheduled to give the Democrats' response to Bush's speech tonight. Webb, a Vietnam War veteran and former Republican who won his Senate seat in November's midterm elections, told CNN today that the conflict is "only going to be resolved with strong diplomatic participation and overt ownership among other countries in that region that have relations with the sects that are involved inside Iraq."

Earlier, Webb dismissed White House appeals to give Bush's plan "a chance to work" and show support for U.S. troops. "They don't have a plan," the freshman senator told reporters. "What they have put on the table is more a tactical adjustment" than a change in strategy. "I don't see it as strategic, other than perhaps politically strategic," he said.

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