Ethanol Plan Fuels Bush Environmental Critics

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President Bush is expected to push for more production of ethanol. Environmental groups and many businesses say he should propose stronger steps to stop global warming.


President Bush tonight addresses Congress in his annual State of the Union speech. He's expected to revisit the topic of America's addiction to oil. That's a phrase he used in last year's speech. One solution he favors is ethanol, a substitute for gasoline that's made mostly from corn. Environmental groups and many businesses want the president to propose more action to limit global warming.

NPR's Christopher Joyce has more on the energy state of the union.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: Energy analysts say the state of the union this year will include a pitch for lots more ethanol. Currently, ethanol makes up about three percent of the country's fuel for vehicles. Raising that quota would make corn growers happy, according to Brent Erickson. He's vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

Mr. BRENT ERICKSON (Vice president, Biotechnology Industry Organization): I think we'll hear from the president upwards of 60 billion gallons as a goal.

JOYCE: That's 60 billion gallons, compared to about 7 billion gallons of corn ethanol now being made. That's a lot more than anyone thinks can be wrung out of cornfields. But Erickson says there are a lot of other sources of cellulose - plant material that can be made into fuel.

Mr. ERICKSON: Crop residues like corn stover or wheat straw, rice straw, sorghum, rice hulls, almond hulls, waste paper, wood chips.

JOYCE: Getting more ethanol to consumers would also help cutback carbon dioxide, the main planet warming gas that comes from burning oil or gas or coal. But some say ethanol isn't nearly enough. Among them is the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, with several members from industry, as well as utilities and environmental groups. They issued a report yesterday calling for mandatory limits on carbon dioxide - not just from cars, but from power plants that use coal or natural gas.

President Bush had adamantly opposed mandatory carbon limits. And even if the president does propose some new efforts to control CO2, it may not be the White House but Congress where the action will take place. That's the view of climate group member Fred Krupp, from Environmental Defense.

Mr. FRED KRUPP (President, Environmental Defense): This is a game changer. And we are asking Congress to act this year, not to wait for a new administration, not to wait for presidential debates. It is time for both parties to come together and move forward and pass legislation now.

JOYCE: In fact, there are at least four new bills pending in Congress already that call for limits on carbon dioxide. Each is offering a different balance of carrot and stick to attract industry support and to win enough votes in Congress to overcome a veto by President Bush.

Christopher Joyce, NPR News.

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