print-only banner
The White House Skip Main Navigation

Ask the White House
Privacy Policy

Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Samuel Bodman
Samuel Bodman
Secretary of Energy

February 21, 2006
Samuel Bodman

It is good to be with you all today. You probably don’t know this but I was trained as a chemical engineer and started my career as an engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For most of my adult life I have been involved in some aspect of the physical sciences. That’s why I am so pleased now to be leading the team at the United States Department of Energy.

Because of my background, I’m particularly pleased the Department has, as a core mission, the task of helping to maintain America’s world leadership in science. We are the primary federal agency conducting basic research in the physical sciences and, over the years, scientists working with the DOE national labs have won more than 80 Nobel Prizes.

I believe science holds the key to solving our nation’s current and future energy concerns. The President’s American Competitiveness Initiative seeks to double federal funding for math and science education over ten years to help produce the next generation of American scientists and engineers. These are the people who will develop, design and invent the cutting-edge solutions to tomorrow’s energy problems. The Advanced Energy Initiative will also help find new ways to power our homes, our businesses and our cars by giving today’s scientists and engineers the funding they need to push ahead with research on solar, wind, and hydrogen power, as well as biofuels and the next generation of clean coal-fired and nuclear power plants. Another key part of the program is the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership that will make it possible to build new nuclear plants here in the United States and around the world, while helping developing economies meet their energy needs in a safe and environmentally friendly way.

All in all, it’s an ambitious agenda, one I am proud to lead. And now, to your questions.

Alex, from Cedarburg, WI writes:
The President has often talked about federal funding for "alternative energy" research and implementation. Who, exactly, will get this money and what, exactly, will be done with it? What, exactly, is done with that the gavernment gives to oil companies?

Samuel Bodman
Alex, our administration has a major effort underway to speed up research into new sources of energy that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The Advanced Energy Initiative I mentioned earlier, which President Bush outlined in his State of the Union address, calls for increasing spending on the Department of Energy's research programs in fiscal year 2007 by 22% to $2.1 billion. This money will go to develop new technologies for using clean coal, solar, biomass, wind and hydrogen to deliver electric power.

Much of the spending in the department's proposed $2.1 billion research budget for fiscal year 2007 will go for competitively bid projects that demonstrate the feasibility of these new technologies. I should also point out that for the second year in a row President Bush has called for the termination of federally funded research and development in the oil and gas industry. President Bush and I both believe that at current prices, there is plenty of incentive for companies in this industry to invest in research and development, and they don't need support from the federal government.

Todd, from Gilroy, CA writes:
I am a big fan of nuclear power. Unfortunately, most folks remember Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Technology is much better now and nuclear would be a great way to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Is it reasonable to expect an expansion of nuclear power in the US?

Samuel Bodman
You’re right and I think it’s very reasonable to expect an expansion of nuclear power in the United States and, frankly around the world.

Part of the challenge we face is how to meet the future demands for energy in a safe and environmentally friendly way. Nuclear power is clean, safe and has too many benefits for us not to change our thinking from the Three Mile Island mindset you referenced. As the president said in Milwaukee Monday, “We ought to start building nuclear power plants again.” France depends on nuclear power for most of its electricity; China has eight nuclear plants under construction and plans to build at least 40 more over the next two decades.

To encourage construction of new plants, the Administration has put forward several new initiatives including federal risk insurance for the first six new plants and a $1.1 billion partnership between government and industry – the Nuclear Power 2010 Initiative – to facilitate new plant orders. The point is that we can no longer wait to tap the resources that are available to us today if we are going to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy.

Additionally, we have proposed a new initiative called the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership to encourage the expansion of nuclear power around the world while reducing the risk that nuclear technology and material will fall into the wrong hands. You can learn more about at

Mike, from New York writes:
Since the governemnt had the right to mandate fuel efficiency, why can't it mandate changes to other fuels for cars and solar and wind for other energy needs? Seems like a simple solution. It would take time but let's get te ball rolling.

Samuel Bodman
Thanks for that question, Mike. The President has laid out ambitious goals for increased usage of ethanol, solar and wind power and has put his money where his mouth is. We believe that as these technologies develop further and become cost-competitive, they will see greater and greater use in the market place. As part of the Energy Bill the President signed last summer, there are now tax incentives to help encourage this process. Also as part of the Energy Bill, starting this year, refiners must turn out a specified amount of ethanol as part of their overall production mix - the figure this year is 4 billion gallons and it rises to 7.5 billion gallons in 2012.

Joey, from Sherman Oaks, California writes:
Secretary Bodman, What are the components of the President's Advanced Energy Initiative and what is the expected timeline to achieve significant results?

Thank you.

Samuel Bodman
The Advanced Energy Initiative covers a wide range of technologies. It includes $281 million in research spending on clean coal technologies that can make it possible to convert coal into electricity while meeting environmental standards in a cost effective way. The initiative also calls for a 78% boost in our research spending on solar power to develop new photovoltaic cells, a 65% increase in spending in terms of using biomass to make ethanol and a 22% increase in spending on our efforts to accelerate the development of hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen-powered cars. We have set a goal of making ethanol commercially competitive by 2012, and we’d like give Americans the option to buy clean hydrogen-cell powered vehicles by 2020.

Sandy, from Edwards AFB California writes:
Good afternoon sir, a few years ago there was a big hype about converting corn into fuel. At the time it seemed to take so many acres to make 1 gallon of fuel. At the rate the American people consume fuel, it would take up all of our resources.Now I see this coming up again in the news. Myself being from Indiana and have raised crops, is this a feasible solution the Government is looking into? Also, is there any light at the end of the tunnel for diesel fuel costs to go down?


Samuel Bodman
Well Sandy, we believe that bio fuels like ethanol are a key part of the solution to the problem of our future energy needs. As I said earlier, the President has put forward an Advanced Energy Initiative seeking to change the way we power our cars, our homes and our businesses. Biomass fuels play a major role in the effort. In addition to traditional ethanol, the President has proposed increased funding for research into finding ways to perfect the process of making ethanol made from plant fiber now discarded as waste. The President’s 2007 Budget included a request for $150 million to help develop bio-based transportation fuels from agricultural waste products, such as wood chips, corn stalks and switch grass. Research scientists say that accelerating research into “cellulosic ethanol” can make it cost-competitive by 2012, offering the potential to displace up to 30 percent of the nation’s current petroleum-based fuel use.

And as for your question about diesel prices, we know the price of gasoline and diesel is putting a strain on family budgets and I’m careful never to forecast prices, but to avoid price swings over the long term, it’s important to invest in new technologies that will help us move past our reliance on fossil fuels.

David, from Houston, TX writes:
Thank you Mr. Secretary for hearing my question. I was wondering what the Bush administration plans to do with Ethanol fuel research, and if the idea of ethanol fuel being refined and distributed for the every-day automobile is being taken seriously?

Samuel Bodman
As I mentioned to Sandy, the administration views the development of biomass fuels very seriously. America produced a record 3.9 billion gallons of ethanol in 2005. That’s twice the level produced just a few years ago. Researchers at the Department indicate that we are five or so years away from the breakthroughs we need to be able to produce fuels from those waste products. The President and the rest of us in his administration want consumers to be able to choose from an array of reasonable, cost-effective energy sources that help keep the environment clean and help us become less dependent on foreign sources of oil. So yes, we are serious about ethanol as an everyday fuel.

Robert, from Chicago writes:
Mr President, please back your words with action. To help America break its dependance on oil, please consider providing generous tax incentives for buying hybrid (hydrogen?) vehicles and for adding solar heating to our homes. Thank you

Samuel Bodman
Robert, you’ll be glad to know that the Energy Policy Act that the President signed last year took several steps in that direction. It provided and allowed for tax credits on the purchase of new hybrid vehicles of up $3,400. That credit takes effect this year. The law also allows businesses to claim a tax credit of up to 30% of their expenditures for installing solar energy equipment. Consumers can claim a tax credit of up $2,000 for the installing solar powered water heaters in their homes. We’re very eager to provide Americans with as many incentives as possible to promote use of alternative sources of energy and energy-efficient vehicles. To learn more about tax incentives available to consumers and business, visit the Energy Department’s website.

Tom, from Dallas, TX writes:
Do you believe the solutions to the energy problem are best solved by the private sector, or by the private sector with the help of the government?

Samuel Bodman
Prior to serving in government, I spent many years in the business world. In fact, I often describe myself as “a refugee from the private sector.” So I fully appreciate the need to allow the marketplace to work, free of government interference. On the other hand, I think this is an important role for government to play too, because many of our energy challenges involve actions and decisions that only the government can undertake. For instance, President Bush believes that we need take advantage of the advances that have been made in nuclear energy, so we are working to streamline and accelerate the licensing process to build new nuclear power plants. The Energy Policy Act that I mentioned above gives new authority to the federal government to permit the building of Liquefied Natural Gas facilities, which will be crucial to meeting our growing natural gas needs. We also need the government to overcome the occasional NIMBY problem with things like siting new electricity transmission lines. And finally, we sometimes need resources that only the government can supply; things that the private sector simply can’t undertake—like the research we do in our seventeen world-class national laboratories.

Lee, from Story City, Iowa writes:
Secretary Bodman, Could you please discuss the administration's support for hydrogen fuel cell automobiles and how long you believe it will take before this type of car is mass marketed. How much support for research and manufacturing development in this area can we expect over the next three years?

Samuel Bodman
Thanks for your question, Lee. President Bush, as you know, strongly supports the development of a hydrogen powered vehicle that will be commercially viable. In his 2003 State of the Union message he committed to spending $1.2 billion over five years to develop such a vehicle. In the budget he has proposed for fiscal 2007, he calls for spending $289 million on research into fuel cell and other technologies that will make such a vehicle possible. Our department’s goal is to develop the technology needed for powering and fueling a hydrogen vehicle to the point where a decision can be made in 2015 on whether it is ready for commercialization. From that point, we expect industry would be able to choose to mass produce such vehicles by 2020.

Grant, from Missouri writes:
With the presidents plan to create more nuclear power facilities, what is the plan for recyling the waste that will be produced by these plants?

Samuel Bodman
Thanks for the question, Grant. I am glad you asked about this. One of the most exciting things happening in our department right now is a new international effort we are spearheading called the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. This partnership will address just the points you raise, by investing in the development and deployment of new technologies that will allow for the expansion of safe, clean nuclear power in a way that better manages the traditional challenges associated with disposing of spent fuel and improves our ability to keep nuclear technology and materials out of the hands of terrorists. As I mentioned earlier, you can learn more by visiting our website at

alan, from meindocino , california writes:
There is enough Natural Gas in the North Slope fields of Alaska to supply the needs of the country for many years to come. Are we trying to delay construction of a pipeline to the lower 48 for strategic reasons, so that we have the world's last supply, or is our policy to send gas prices sky high by not developing available sources, because we want to encourage conservation and alternative sources of energy?

Samuel Bodman
Alan, we are committed to diversify America’s energy supply. Natural gas is an important component of our future plans, and as you and the others in this chat may know, we have been trying for some time to construct pipelines and other ways to efficiently tap into the resources in the North Slope and elsewhere. And we remain committed to that.

But there are other options as well. We have to make sure we have enough natural gas to meet home heating and industrial needs. And one of the best ways to secure supply is to expand our ability to receive liquefied natural gas because huge supplies of it – including the one you mentioned – exist outside of the reach of pipelines. The gas can be brought here in tankers in liquefied form, de-liquefied and put it into our pipeline system.

The problem is, is that we don’t have enough sites to set up terminals to receive it. Which is why we were glad to see in the energy bill was the clarification of federal authority to site new receiving terminals for LNG.

Samuel Bodman

Thanks for your questions. And for your interest in finding solutions to the energy challenge we all face.