Business Group Criticizes Bush's Energy Ideas

During last year's State of the Union address, President Bush made the blunt pronouncement that America is addicted to oil. The president proposed ways to get cheaper, cleaner energy — and get it closer to home — in each of his State of the Union speeches.

His speech Tuesday night will do the same. But this time, there is more pressure to curb global warming.

Energy independence has been on the presidential wish list since Jimmy Carter. But Americans import more oil than ever. Cars are no more fuel-efficient than they were 17 years ago.

So President Bush is expected to address the "addiction" again Tuesday. One thing he may call for is more ethanol, the corn-based fuel that currently makes up a little less than 3 percent of U.S. gasoline needs.

But there remains the looming question of climate change. Burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil creates carbon dioxide, which then rises into the atmosphere and warms the planet. President Bush has said Americans should invent new technology and find ways to voluntarily cut back on carbon dioxide.

That has put the president at odds with environmentalists — and now, quite a few business leaders. One day before the State of the Union address, a group of them, called the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, are declaring that inventing "new" technology isn't enough.

"The best way to stimulate greater use of existing clean-air technologies is to establish a market value for carbon," says Peter Darbee, head of the big California utility PG&E.

A market value would essentially be a tax on every pound or ton of carbon that goes up into the atmosphere. The group says they want what's called a "cap-and-trade" system.

There would be a ceiling on how much carbon dioxide businesses can emit. Companies get a quota; those that emit less than their quota get to sell the difference, in carbon units, to companies that go beyond their quota.

According to Jim Rogers, head of Duke Energy in North Carolina, carbon limits should not be voluntary.

"We need a program flexible enough to cope with the economic challenges ahead," Rogers says. "But it must be mandatory."

The White House has resisted considering the idea of mandatory limits on carbon.

If President Bush pushes for new policies on the climate Tuesday, he will be playing to an expectant audience. The climate group that spoke today represents numerous business interests.

And since the Democrats took leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives, they and many Republican colleagues have introduced several bills to force limits on carbon emissions. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is making plans to create a special panel to do nothing but debate climate change.

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