- The Washington Times - Monday, February 20, 2006

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Saying the nation is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that would “startle” most Americans, President Bush yesterday outlined his energy proposals to help wean the country off foreign oil.

Less than half the crude oil used by refineries is produced in the United States, while 60 percent comes from foreign nations, Mr. Bush said during the first stop on a two-day trip to talk about energy.

Some of these foreign suppliers have “unstable” governments that have fundamental differences with America, he said.

“It creates a national security issue, and we’re held hostage for energy by foreign nations that may not like us,” Mr. Bush said.

The president is focusing on energy at a time when Americans are paying high power bills to heat their homes this winter and have only recently seen a decrease in gasoline prices.

One of Mr. Bush’s proposals would expand research into smaller, longer-lasting batteries for electric-gas hybrid cars, including plug-ins. He highlighted that initiative with a visit yesterday to the battery center at Milwaukee-based auto-parts supplier Johnson Controls Inc.

During his trip, Mr. Bush also is focusing on a proposal to increase investment in development of clean electric-power sources, and proposals to speed the development of biofuels such as “cellulosic” ethanol made from wood chips or sawgrass.

Energy-conservation groups and environmentalists say they’re pleased that the president, a former oilman in Texas, is stressing alternative sources of energy, but they contend his proposals don’t go far enough. They say the administration must consider greater fuel-efficiency standards for cars, and some economists believe it’s best to increase the gas tax to force consumers to change their driving habits.

During his visit to Johnson Controls’ new hybrid-battery laboratory, Mr. Bush checked out two Ford Escapes — one with a nickel-metal-hybrid battery, the kind that powers most hybrid-electric vehicles, and one with a lithium-ion battery, which Johnson Controls believes are the wave of the future. In 2004, Johnson Controls received a government contract to develop the lithium-ion batteries.

While Mr. Bush is highlighting his budget proposals to help wean America from foreign oil, the lab he visited is meeting a $28 million shortfall by cutting its staff by 32 persons, including eight researchers.

“We’re on the edge of some amazing breakthroughs — breakthroughs all aimed at enhancing our national security and our economic security and the quality of life of the folks who live here in the United States,” Mr. Bush said.

Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, questioned Mr. Bush’s energy policies yesterday, saying the administration also supports subsidies for luxury sport utility vehicles.

“This single tax subsidy dwarfs anything being done for hybrid batteries,” Mr. Markey said.

Today, Mr. Bush plans to visit the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., to talk about speeding the development of biofuels.

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