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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 W. Bodman
Secretary of Energy

March 9, 2005

Samuel W. Bodman

I am glad to have this opportunity to answer your questions about the Department of Energy and President Bush's energy policy. Earlier today, I joined the President on his trip to Ohio, where he delivered a major speech on energy. He noted that, "One of the most critical needs of our growing economy is an affordable, reliable, secure supply of energy. Everyone who drives a car or runs a farm understands the importance of energy. So does every small business with dreams of becoming a larger business someday. Families and businesses today have concerns about energy, from higher prices at the gas pump, to rising home heating bills, to the possibility of a blackout."

I hope my answers today help explain how we are addressing these challenges.

Mary, from Illinois writes:
What is the purpose of the Strategic Petroleum reserve and what is the reason President Bush had it filled? Did it cost taxpayers by filling it?

Samuel W. Bodman
The Strategic Petroleum Reserve was authorized by Congress in 1975 to protect the nation against the shock of a sudden, dramatic disruption in the world oil supply.

After the events of September 11, 2001, President Bush determined that it was critical to the Nation’s energy and national security to fill the Reserve’s inventory to its 700 million barrel capacity, up from the 540 million barrels it held in November 2001. As Secretary of Energy its my job fill the Reserve in a deliberate, cost-efficient manner.

As to the cost to the taxpayers, we don’t actually “buy” the oil. Private developers who have leases to drill on federal lands, give us part of the oil they extract, which then goes into the Reserve.

Mary, from California writes:
Why don't we try to use conservation and alternative fuels as a way to reduce our dependence on oil?

Samuel W. Bodman
Increasing conservation and energy efficiency and expanding the use of alternative fuels are cornerstones of the President’s National Energy Policy. An important part of our energy security is a diverse portfolio of fuel sources to keep us from being overly dependent on any single energy source. A number of ways that families and businesses can conserve energy and use it more wisely can be found on our web site

Joe, from Toms River writes:
I have been hearing horror stories about the rising oil prices. Is there some sort of fallback strategy on a fuel source that could alleviate the dependency on OPEC?

Samuel W. Bodman
The ways in which we are working to address the nation’s future energy needs include the President’s FreedomCar and Hydrogen Fuel initiatives, to develop cars, trucks and buses that will run on domestically produced hydrogen fuel, rather than gasoline made from imported oil. Not only will this add to our nation’s energy security, it will also help the environment.

Brian, from Washington D.C. writes:
Doesn't President Bush already have an Energy Plan? Why doesn't Congress pass it? Don't they care whether people have energy?

Samuel W. Bodman
During his second week in office, the President put together a task force to address America’s energy challenges. The task force sent back more than 100 recommendations as part of a new National Energy Policy. And over the past four years, we have implemented 95 percent of those recommendations.

Now we need to pass a comprehensive energy bill to achieve the rest. I’ve talked to a number of Congressmen and Senators on both sides of the aisle and there’s a general agreement that we have a serious energy problem confronting this country. I don’t think this is a partisan issue. Everybody has constituents that are paying $2-plus for gasoline, and that’s a real burden.

I encourage everyone reading this to get in touch with their Senators and Congressmen to urge them to pass a comprehensive energy bill this year.

Will, from Denver writes:
Sir, I've heard a lot of talk about the importance of still using coal for electricity. Why do we still need coal if it pollutes our air? How about more wind and solar power or natural gas?

Thank you

Samuel W. Bodman
Coal currently provides over 50 percent of our electricity. We have a 250-year supply of this very inexpensive fuel. In fact, the U.S. has been called “the Saudi Arabia of coal.”

Wind and solar power are certainly important and desirable, but the technology just does not yet exist to get electricity in sufficient quantities from these sources. We are working to change that, but in the meantime, we need to keep using our abundant and affordable coal supply and improve its environmental performance.

Clean coal technology has greatly reduced emissions from modern coal power plants. New plants are becoming progressively cleaner and, in the long term, technology now under development can lead to zero-emission coal power plants. The President’s FutureGen initiative, now under way, is an effort to develop a coal-fired power plant that will emit no pollution or greenhouse gases.

Steve, from Albany, New York writes:
As part of the President's energy plan, will the Administration improve the tax creditstax deductions for consumers purchasing Hybrid autos and using wind and solar energy ?

Samuel W. Bodman
Yes. In fact just today the President reiterated his support for tax credits to expand the use of hybrid cars and renewable energy sources as part of the President’s National Energy Policy.

DAN, from Levittown New York writes:
Good Afternoon. My wife and I just recently got married and bought our first home. It has not been easy, but we make ends meet because we both work two jobs. It now costs $200 a month to heat our home. If it goes any higher we will be forced to sell and move in with my parents. What is the administration doing to keep home heating costs from getting any higher?

Samuel W. Bodman
Congratulations on your marriage! Here’s a fact that many homeowners don’t know – about 30 percent of the energy in a typical American home is wasted because of inefficient lighting and appliances and inadequate insulation. So one of our greatest new sources of energy is the energy we currently waste. To help fix this, and help folks like you hold down your utility bills, we’ve put together a web site full of great tips and information about energy efficiency. It’s at

Jimmy, from Houston, Texas writes:
The President has called for an increased effort in research and development for Transmission and Distribution technology. The Blackout of 2003 was a rude wake up call for the need for new technology. Superconductivity is the cornerstone of DOE's grid technology and reliability activities.

How do we ensure that this research which has been going on for 20 years) is finally commercialized and integrated into the grid?

Samuel W. Bodman
We first used superconductive wire in 1999. Since then, a “second generation” of superconducting wire has been invented that will improve performance and eventually lower the cost of equipment. Our partners include technology users such as major electric utilities and equipment manufacturers. Our purpose is to increase grid reliability, capacity and efficiency, and I believe the companies and researchers we are working with will make it happen.

jennifer, from rab writes:
there has been a lot of debate about drilling for oil in alaska. what are the effects to the environment and what are the benefits to US citizens if we decide to?

Samuel W. Bodman
I am glad you asked about this. I just visited Alaska’s Artic National Wildlife Refuge (called ANWR) last weekend, to see for myself what it looks like, and to examine some of the advanced drilling technology we might use. I can tell you: it’s big… and cold!

ANWR is a huge place -- about the size of South Carolina. As currently proposed, oil and gas production in ANWR would require less than 2,000 acres – or an area about the size of the U.S. Capitol grounds or the area of a mid-sized city airport.

Any activities, of course, must protect the arctic tundra and the plants and animals that live there. We can do that and still drill for oil and gas through the use of new technology. And oil from ANWR would make a big difference: the million barrels per day that it would produce is about ten percent of what we import.

John, from West Leechburg PA writes:
Why isn't the President pushing for oil exploration in Alaska?

Samuel W. Bodman
He is!

The President has been supporting oil exploration in ANWR and is urging Congress to include opening ANWR to environmentally sound exploration and development as part of comprehensive energy legislation. One out of every six barrels of oil we produce in this country comes from Alaska. As I mentioned, exploration and subsequent production of oil from ANWR could add another million barrels of oil per day to our supplies. That’s more than half the amount we import each day from Saudi Arabia.

Zak, from Cleveland writes:
Mr. Secretary,While the President has claimed that he and his administration are pursuing alternate sources of energy, their efforts are hardly visible. Firstly, will the President practicaly pursue an agenda that truly promotes the discovery of alternate energy sources? Secondly, why hasn't the President acted on alternate sources already available to us, such as ethanol, solar energy, or hydrogen power?

Thank you

Samuel W. Bodman
Actually, at the Department of Energy, we currently spend more on energy efficiency and renewable energy than we do on fossil fuel and nuclear energy combined. We are very much oriented toward new, alternative technologies, and our efforts are paying off. Since 2000, U.S. production and use of ethanol has more than doubled. The installed capacity of electricity-generating wind turbines has also more than doubled. We continue to make progress in bringing down the cost of solar power, which is still too expensive for most to consider, but we continue to make progress nevertheless. And finally, we are investing $1.2 billion over the first five years of the President’s Hydrogen Fuel Initiative to make practical, affordable hydrogen fuel cell vehicles a reality by 2020.

Kumiko, from Worcester, MA writes:
Hello, Dr. Bodman. Thank you for taking my question. What kind of activities is DOE planning to focus on to submit Yucca Mountain license application by the end of the year?

Samuel W. Bodman
For those who don’t know, Yucca Mountain in Nevada is the proposed site for a permanent storage facility for nuclear waste from power plants and nuclear defense activities. The President is strongly committed to moving forward with the process that will allow the site to open.

Right now, we are making sure all the required technical data and safety analyses in the license application will be sufficient for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to conduct an independent review. We need to demonstrate that the Yucca Mountain repository can be safely constructed and operated so that the health and safety of the public will be protected. This means preparing very technical documents that run into the millions of pages. If you want to review some of these documents, you can find them at a special web site:

Adam, from Wynn writes:
Why does the clear skies act actually weaken standards for grandfathered electric power plants? Should we not be more focused on toughening standards so we are breathing cleaner air and suffering fewer respiratory problems?

Samuel W. Bodman
The proposed Clear Skies legislation is actually a very ambitious, far-reaching plan to improve our air quality without sacrificing our energy supply. The bill would reduce emissions of pollutants like sulfur, nitrogen oxide and mercury by seventy percent, and do so in a way that works with—rather against—the free market. That means we would improve the environment while also protecting jobs and promoting economic growth.

Larry, from Grand Rapids, Michigan writes:
How will the oil under the wildlife reserve in Alaska help stablize the price of gas and how long would it take to affect the price?

Samuel W. Bodman
Unfortunately, even if we moved forward in ANWR today, it would not affect gas prices in the short term. But I can say this: a plan to produce oil in ANWR was approved by Congress in 1995, but President Clinton vetoed it. Had it been allowed to proceed, that extra million barrels of oil per day would already be going into America’s gas pumps.

Sarah, from San Diego writes:
Why has it been so difficult to get an energy bill passed? Also, do you feel that there is a great deal of promise in ethanol? What alternative source of energy do you feel has the most promise?

Thanks for your time and your service. Best wishes to the President.

Samuel W. Bodman
Energy legislation has always been difficult for Congress to deal with, and major energy legislation has not been passed since 1992. But it is a priority for us, and we will work very hard to help Congress get it done this year. Ethanol has potential to do far more than it is doing today, but it is not the single answer to our oil dependency problem. Alternative electricity sources such as wind, geothermal, solar and other alternatives have great promise—some in the shorter term, and other with tremendous potential for over the longer term.

Kenny, from Kentucky writes:
How much financial support for alternative fuel source research does the President support and will Congress support this amount? Will this funding require universities to share technology as it is developed or is a form of funding along the lines of tax credits to corporations that fund research considered a more viable avenue?

Samuel W. Bodman
Including hydrogen and ethanol, we are proposing to spend over $200 million for alternative fuels this year alone, and Congress has thus far been supportive of our efforts. This work is conducted in our National Labs, in universities, and with industry. The intellectual property developed through this research is handled in various ways, subject to the provisions of the specific contracts, cooperative agreements and grants under which the research is conducted. In addition, most of our research with industry is cost shared. While I am relatively new at the Department, this approach appears to be working quite well, but I will consider your suggestion.

David, from Lawrence, KS writes:
I am interested in the President's hydrogen fuel initiative. What technologies are being developed, and when could they be available to the general public?

Samuel W. Bodman
We are focused on light duty transportation… the cars and trucks most Americans drive, and which consume most of the oil we use for transportation. More reliable and affordable fuel cells, new methods of storing hydrogen, and the infrastructure needed to produce and distribute hydrogen fuel, are all among the technologies receiving attention. Our goal is to have affordable, practical vehicles in mass markets by 2020.

Phil, from Palm Beach, Florida writes:
Good Afternoon Sir, First, I applaud the President for his work in decreasing our dependencies on foreign resources. An independent America in every sense is better for all of us. I have been following the President's Hydrogen Initiative for several years now and it seems as thought RDandD activities relating to hydrogen and fuel cells have tapered off as of recently. According to the US's Hydrogen Posture Plan timeframe of getting this (automotive fuel cell) technology to consumers, are we still on track?

Respectfully, Phil M.

Samuel W. Bodman
Yes. The Hydrogen Fuel Initiative is on track. Congress has thus far provided much of the funding increases we have sought. We have met some key targets in lowering the cost of fuel cells, and we have just launched some of our “learning demonstrations,” which are testing hydrogen vehicles and refueling under real world conditions.

Richard, from Ohio writes:
What incentives is the government providing business and individuals to use alternative energy sources, such as solar, geothermal and wind power? This would help reduce the dependence on crude. Also, this would reduce the air and water polution, thus reduce health problems associated with air and water polution.I think the government should pick up the tab for 25 to 50 of implementing alternative energy sources.

Samuel W. Bodman
The Federal government currently provides a production tax credit for businesses generating electricity from solar, geothermal, wind, biomass, and other renewable resources. We are seeking to extend that tax credit as part of comprehensive energy legislation that we urge Congress to quickly pass.

Samuel W. Bodman

Thanks for such great questions. It’s good to see that so many Americans are interested in our energy policies.

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