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Bush pushes fix for oil 'addiction'

President says technological advances will cure dependency

President Bush: "Here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil."


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(CNN) -- President Bush called in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night for the United States to break its "addiction" to Middle Eastern oil using technological solutions.

"Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy," Bush told Americans, who are paying more than $2 a gallon for gasoline. "Here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world."

"The best way to break this addiction is through technology," he said, adding that technological advances will help achieve a "great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025." (Watch who applauds Bush's energy proposals -- 2:20)

That would represent only a fraction of the total oil imported by the United States annually, however. Government statistics show that about 80 percent of U.S. oil imports come from outside the Middle East.

"By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past," said Bush, a former oil man whose father and top officials in his administration also previously held jobs in the oil industry.

Reducing dependence on foreign oil has been a common theme in State of the Union addresses for decades, including Bush's own.

Crude oil prices rose about 40 percent last year, driven up by tensions in oil-producing countries, and Bush's speech came as oil prices pushed near $70 a barrel.

The national average price for a gallon of gasoline was $1.91 during the first week of February 2005, at the time of last year's State of the Union address.

Bush made no mention of short-term measures to lower the cost of gasoline and natural gas, nor of a significant increase in federal fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles. Also absent from the speech was his past goal of opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling, which Congress has previously rejected.

On Monday, the Democratic leader in the Senate, Nevada's Harry Reid, said the country's oil addiction has "climbed steadily over the last four years and doubled the price of heat for our homes and gas for our cars because the vice president let big oil companies write our energy policy."

Reid said Bush has "lavished billions on big oil instead of investing in American technology and know-how that make us more energy independent."

Critics said energy legislation that Bush signed last summer did little to reduce energy prices or to reduce dependence on foreign oil. The bill provided billions in tax breaks for the energy industry.

Bush's speech came one day after Exxon Mobil Corp., the nation's largest oil company, reported U.S.-record profits for the quarter ($10.7 billion) and the year ($36.1 billion). (Full story)

In the Democratic rebuttal to Bush's speech, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine said "Democrats at both the state and national levels are leading the way on energy reforms."

"When it comes to energy, Americans are using more than ever, paying more for it, and are more dependent on the Middle East than ever before," Kaine said.

"There's a better way," he said. "Last summer, I joined Democrats in Washington and in other states in calling on oil companies to share in our sacrifice and return some of their record-breaking excess profits."

Bush: 'We are on the threshold'

In his address, the president lauded nearly $10 billion in spending since 2001 to "develop cleaner, cheaper and more reliable alternative energy sources -- and we are on the threshold of incredible advances.

"So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative -- a 22-percent increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy, to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas," he said.

"To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants; revolutionary solar and wind technologies; and clean, safe nuclear energy," he said.

"We must also change how we power our automobiles," he said, calling for increased research "in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen."

Bush also lauded his funding for research on hydrogen-fueled cars in last year's State of the Union address. Last summer's energy bill included tax credits for people who buy hybrid gas-electric vehicles.

"We will also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips, stalks or switchgrass," he said. "Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years."

Ethanol is a colorless liquid fuel distilled from crops, usually corn. It can be produced domestically and reduces carbon monoxide emissions.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who served as energy secretary under President Clinton, criticized the proposed 22 percent increase as inadequate.

"You need a massive, Apollo-like program to reduce our energy dependence," he told CNN.

Bush also announced what he called the "American Competitiveness Initiative."

That program, he said, aims "to encourage innovation throughout our economy, and to give our nation's children a firm grounding in math and science."

He proposed doubling the federal commitment to "the most critical basic research programs in the physical sciences over the next 10 years."

"This funding will support the work of America's most creative minds as they explore promising areas such as nanotechnology, supercomputing and alternative energy sources," he said.

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