Beyond SOTU

New York Times reporter Simon Romero dug up suggestions for reducing oil imports that didn't make it into the president's speech. Among them: Perhaps the most significant step the nation could take in reducing oil dependence is to change the way cars are produced, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute ... In fact, overall federal funding for research and development in energy efficiency has declined 14 percent since 2002, adjusted for inflation. Some measures that President Bush left out of his state-of-union address could also bring big payoffs: measures that might actually curb oil consumption like greater fuel-efficiency rules for cars, a gasoline tax or increasing ethanol imports from Brazil... "It's remarkable that we're not taxing fuel from Saudi Arabia while we're taxing fuel from Brazil," said Gal Luft, a co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, a research organization in Washington that specializes in energy issues.

Nukes and subsidies

It must take a high tolerance for cognitive dissonance to be a small-government Republican nuke-backer: Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said he was enthusiastic about nuclear power but questioned whether the government should be subsidizing alternative fuels like ethanol. It's a wonder his circuits don't fry. Oh, wait ...

SOTU: Saudis respond

And make it clear that Bush is talking smack

Bush's BFFs in Saudi Arabia were a little puzzled by his (now inoperative) comments about Mideast oil: Diplomatically, Mr. Bush's ambitious call for the replacement of 75 percent of the United States' Mideast oil imports with ethanol and other energy sources by 2025 upset Saudi Arabia, the main American oil supplier in the Persian Gulf. In an interview on Wednesday, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Turki al-Faisal, said he would have to ask Mr. Bush's office "what he exactly meant by that." If you know what he means. In Washington, Prince Turki, the Saudi ambassador, said he was puzzled by Mr. Bush's words in the speech. He said he wanted to know if reducing American dependence on foreign oil also applied to other suppliers to the United States. "Is that a declaration that the U.S. is going to work to be independent of Canadian oil, Mexican oil and Venezuelan oil?" he asked, adding, "I see no threat from America from receiving its oil from the Middle East." Say what you will about Saudi Arabia, but the guy's got a point. Oil is oil.

SOTU: Truthiness!

Bush didn’t mean he’d literally reduce Middle East imports

Well, turns out all the doubt, debate, and discussion about Bush's oil pledge was beside the point: One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic adviser said Wednesday that the president didn't mean it literally. Let it sink in ... give it a second ... don't fight it ... theeere it is. It was just a figure of speech! An old saw. An aphorism, you might call it. You know, like how they say. Not that kind of 75%-by-2025, the kind you were thinking, with the 75% and the 2025. More like a metaphor.

SOTU: Dept. of Energy analyst dubious of Bush pledge

With good reason

Here at Gristmill David has already raised questions about the president's stated goal "to replace more than 75% of our oil imports from the Middle East" (which accounts for less than a quarter of imported oil) as opposed to trying to reduce total imports, let alone reduce total consumption. Tom Doggett, a business reporter for Reuters, looks at projections from the Department of Energy and wonders if even that goal would be achieved by the president's current proposals: U.S. ethanol supplies will be just 783,000 barrels a day in two decades -- a drop in the bucket compared to the more than 26.1 million barrels per day of crude and petroleum products the country will consume, according to the EIA, which is the Energy Department's analytical arm. Even if ethanol production were to increase by 2025 to levels sought by the administration, it would not necessarily displace crude oil from the Middle East, because the region has the lowest costs for producing oil in the world and U.S. companies would continue to seek the cheapest source of energy, according to EIA analyst Anthony Radich. "When I speak of expanding ethanol production it's not at all clear that it's going to reduce import dependence," Radich said. "Barring some (government) policy that explicitly discourages oil imports, even if we do find cheaper ways to produce cellulose ethanol, the imports from the Middle East are among the last to go," he said. Two quick thoughts: First, if Venezuelan or Mexican or Canadian oil remains more expensive to extract than Saudi Arabian oil, we would simply import less from those countries. Second, if the goal is to achieve energy independence, then seeking alternative supply channels ("technology!") without addressing demand is a bit like picking a fight with one hand tied behind your back. Your left hook better be really good.

SOTU: Corrections and updates

All right, I've been blogging on the fly since the SOTU speech, and in my haste I've gotten a couple of things slightly off. Boring corrections and updates below the fold.

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