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EcoCentro
Our Column

En español
Our Socks are Still on, Mr. President
By Javier Sierra

While watching President Bush's State of the Union Speech, several times I felt like I had already seen this movie before, especially when he talked about his energy policy initiatives. The White House had heavily promoted them beforehand like a new Hollywood blockbuster film.

White House economic advisor Alan Hubbard had predicted that Bush's speech would "knock your socks off in terms of our commitment to energy independence." But, as Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope responded afterwards, "our socks are still on."

In fact, Bush's proposals left us with an aftertaste of stale, unfulfilled promises that we have heard for the past six years.

The president told us his goal is to reduce U.S. gasoline consumption by 20 percent in the next 10 years to end what he calls our foreign "oil addiction."

But the White House itself acknowledges that the 20 percent refers to "projected" yearly gasoline consumption, not today's levels. In other words, global warming emissions would be minimally reduced - if not actually increased, instead of being cut by the much-needed 80 percent.

In his seven state of the union speeches, Bush has contended that in order to safeguard our economy and protect our country, we must cut down on fossil fuel use and choose renewable sources of energy. In these seven years, however, our dependence on foreign oil has reached its highest levels in 15 years. In 2000, we imported 58 percent of our oil. By September 2006, we imported 70 percent.

Bush's renewed call for alternative sources of energy creates deep suspicions, because when it comes to delivering on his promises, his words are gone with the wind. In 2006, after promising to increase funding for renewables, Bush gutted the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, whose budget is now lower than it was when Bush became President.

Bush also told us he is aiming to increasing car and truck fuel-efficiency in the United States. Specifically, he wants the standards to take effect in the 2010 model year for cars and 2012 model year for trucks.

His plan, however, allows for manufacturers to apply complex rules about size and average consumption. The Union of Concerned Scientists, an independent watchdog group, indicates the rules "could encourage automakers to sell heavier or larger vehicles that guzzle more gas."

The president does not need to beat around the bush to tackle this problem. Detroit already has the technology necessary to produce cars and light trucks capable of yielding at least 40 miles per gallon. If this change started now, not in 2010 or 2012, in ten years we would be able to save all the oil we import from the Persian Gulf -the most volatile region on the planet- and all the crude oil we would be able to extract from Alaska's pristine regions, combined.

Nevertheless, Bush insists on opening oil drilling at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of the few complete ecosystems left in the Western Hemisphere. Studies tell us the first drop of oil from this pristine place would take ten years to reach the consumer and that the reserves would last for only six months.

"The president is misleading the American people on what will solve oil dependence and global warming," says Pope. "The president is focusing on the wrong solutions when the right ones are easily done and are a better deal for America."

For the first time in his seven speeches to the nation, Bush acknowledged that we all must "confront the serious challenges of global climate change."

But in order to tackle these challenges, we must drastically reduce power plant emissions, which warm up and poison our atmosphere. Bush, however, in a 6000-word speech, never mentioned this terrible problem.

Power plants generate 40 percent of toxic gas emissions in the United States. And this year, the Bush administration plans to let polluters police themselves. In other words, the fox will guard the henhouse so that power plants will be allowed to bombard us with even higher levels of carcinogens.

Not only are our socks still on. Our gas masks are on as well.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. For more information, please visit www.sierraclub.org/ecocentro


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