Bush's "Green" State of the Union

In Tuesday's State of the Union Address, President Bush proposed a $1.2 billion plan for research and development (R&D) investment in fuel cell cars, joining the growing bipartisan consensus on the need for energy innovation. America needs an ambitious plan to create real energy independence, equal to our commitment to the Apollo space program. But the president’s initiative is a faint start toward addressing this major national challenge: too small, too narrow, and too slow to get us where we need to go.

The Bush proposal for a "Freedom Fuel" initiative actually represents $720 million in new money over five years ($273 million has been proposed for 2004). This is a drop in the bucket in a $2 trillion budget, and pales when compared to the $364 billion package of tax breaks and credits that were proposed in the President’s energy policy, over 75 percent of which were directed toward traditional energy sources and mature technology.

Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota has proposed spending $6.5 billion for fuel cells over the next 10 years, not only on R&D, but to accelerate deployment, to expand government purchasing, and to offer tax incentives for their use by consumers, pushing the technology forward while improving energy security now. Senator Dorgan's plan makes sense.

But, while fuel cells offer tremendous promise for long-term supplies of clean energy, putting fuel cell cars on the road in 25 to 50 years is not enough. We need a broad plan for reinvestment that strengthens all sectors of the economy and starts right away.

Americans use 25 percent of the world’s energy, almost three times as much as the second-highest consumer, China. We use more energy to create each dollar of GDP, and more energy per capita, than every other industrialized nation, twice the rate of Europe or Japan. Much of this energy is wasted, a problem extending far beyond transportation. A broad-based plan for energy independence would invest in new capital stock, retrofit our buildings, and capture new manufacturing markets. Fuel cell cars in the future are but a small piece of the puzzle.

The U.S. now imports over half of our petroleum, leaving us vulnerable to price shocks that slow the economy and threaten national security. In the face of these mounting energy challenges, R&D is necessary but not sufficient. We need immediate action to deploy existing proven technology. A proactive strategy will also stimulate the economy now and create near term jobs when they are most needed. The Bush proposal underscores the fundamental credibility gap this administration has on energy policy.

Our nation faces a substantial threat from our dependence on foreign oil and from our reliance on an energy infrastructure that is aging, insecure, and inefficient. The President's limited proposal squanders an historic opportunity to broadly adopt non-polluting renewable energy, increase energy efficiency, and to use new investment in public infrastructure to increase regional economic development.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy estimates that a comprehensive set of efficiency policies alone could save 33 percent of our projected energy budget by 2020, at a savings to businesses and consumers of $500 billion annually, putting real money in the pockets of working families while creating over a million new jobs.

It is time for a national Apollo project for energy independence that invests in our communities, improves our national productivity, and creates good jobs for American workers. This national commitment will meet energy challenges and serve as an engine for the economy, driving a broad range of exciting new technologies into the market, rebuilding our cities, and investing in our nation’s public infrastructure.

An Apollo project will accelerate a hydrogen infrastructure, to be sure, but it will do much more. To truly solve our energy problems we must increase construction of high performance buildings that not only use less energy, but improve our quality of life. We must expand transit options, promoting "smart growth" and increasing equity and mobility. We must rebuild the electrical grid to support distributed generation from renewable energy, and build demand for a wide range of energy efficient products, from hybrid cars to new appliances. And we must support these new markets with advanced manufacturing and clean production, revitalizing domestic industry, and restoring our jobs base.

An Apollo project will invest now in a flagging economy, and offer long-term savings to fuel continued growth. A real program for energy independence will start today, to move the economy onto a new energy path.

The President has consistently supported an energy policy that wastes resources and hurts workers, communities, and the environment. He has prolonged our dependence on foreign oil and our vulnerability to volatile energy prices. The nation needs to move beyond this risky strategy.

The "Freedom Fuel" initiative will increase investment in an important energy source. This is a good start, but we must do much, much more. Immediate deployment of proven technology throughout our economy will improve the productivity of our work force, stimulate growth, and build a lasting prosperity. The nation is calling for real leadership and decisive action, the president has proposed more research. It is time for an American Apollo project that is bold, far reaching, and starts today.

Bracken Hendricks is the Director of the New Growth Initiative, a joint project of the Institute for America’s Future and the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, dedicated to promoting good jobs and energy independence. Hendricks served as a Special Assistant in the Clinton Administration.

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