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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

February 23, 2007

Samuel W. Bodman
Good afternoon. It’s always a pleasure to participate in “Ask the White House.”

Yesterday, President Bush visited Novozymes, a company in North Carolina that is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of enzymes--a critical component in developing cost-effective biofuels. Today, I joined the President to view some of the latest technologies in alternative fuel vehicles, which were on display on the White House lawn. Both of these visits underscore the President’s long-standing commitment to finding clean, renewable energy sources that will reduce our dependence on oil from hostile or unstable regimes--a commitment exemplified in his recent “20 in 10” plan, which seeks to cut America’s gasoline use by 20 percent in ten years.

I look forward to further discussing how we, at the Department of Energy, are working to meet the President’s clean energy goals. Now, let’s get started.

Gregory, from Torrance, CA writes:
Dear Secretary Bodman: The administration's current energy plans seem to be a rehash of previous administration proposals. With a hostile Democratic congress, isn't it true that most if not all of the Administration's plans are going to die in committee? Thank you.

Samuel Bodman
I think that energy is a bipartisan issue and energy security is a goal that we all share, so I am actually quite optimistic that we will be able to work with both parties in Congress to implement the President’s goals to develop clean, more affordable, more reliable energy sources.

I think there is especially strong support for the “20 in 10” plan the President announced in his State of the Union. Our goal is to reduce America’s consumption of gasoline by 20 percent in ten years. We can do that by increasing our use of alternative fuels, like ethanol, and second, by making cars more fuel efficient. Together, we believe these measures will help reduce America’s dependence on imported oil, and also check the growth of carbon emissions.

I don’t believe any previous President has ever proposed such an ambitious energy goal-- in terms of what he hopes and expects we, as a nation, can do. And we have a realistic path set out for getting there: by making available the necessary technology, and by making that technology available to you, the consumer, as soon as possible.

Douglas, from Boston writes:
What can be done in the way of increased tax credits or other incentives to make alternative energy sources affordable to the average American?

Samuel Bodman
Thanks for the question. There are already a number of tax credits in place to encourage American consumers to choose energy efficient vehicles and appliances, and improve the energy efficiency of their homes and businesses. Thanks to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the President's Advanced Energy Initiative, we have proposed and enacted a series of tax credits that make it cheaper to purchase hybrid vehicles, and to install the infrastructure needed to increase the availability of E-85 – a fuel blend of 85 percent ethanol – across the country. These tax incentives have helped American consumers buy more than 250,000 fuel-efficient vehicles since January 2006. There are also tax credits for consumers who install energy-saving windows and insulation, solar-powered water heaters, or energy efficient air conditioners or furnaces in their homes.

In addition, we can all take a variety of simple steps that, collectively, can make a big difference in improving America’s energy efficiency. For instance, if every household in America changed one incandescent light bulb to a compact fluorescent light, it would save 5.6 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, or $526 million a year in electric expenses. Other steps, like installing programmable thermostats, lowering the temperature of the hot water in your hot water tank, and properly inflating the tires on our cars and trucks to maximize fuel efficiency, can save you money and help conserve energy.

Jennifer, from Dover, Delaware writes:
Recently there has been an increase in the use of alternative fuels (i.e. ethanol). Do you believe that with the rapid decrease of farmland in our country due to development that it is possible for our country's farmers to be able to supply enough corn to produce ethanol? If we have to import corn from other countries such as Brasil then aren't we getting ourselves in the same position of reliance? Thank you

Samuel Bodman
That’s a good question, Jennifer. America’s rich and resourceful agricultural community is a key part of meeting of future energy needs with clean, renewable fuels. That’s why President’s Bush’s new Farm Bill devotes $400 million to clean energy research and development for 2008 alone. While I believe that ethanol made from corn can continue to be an increasingly important part of our energy supply, there is sufficient corn for our current needs. However, we can’t keep increasing our use of corn indefinitely. So one of the most exciting things we are doing right now at the Department of Energy is setting up three new Bioenergy Centers, which will be devoted to developing the technology for so-called cellulosic ethanol--that is, ethanol made from a variety of non-edible agricultural products. That way, we can get the benefits of ethanol, without adversely affecting our nation’s supply of food. Over the next five years, we will invest $375 million in these three biocenters, which will use things like wood chips, switch grass, and other organic materials to develop affordable home-grown fuels, without using food crops.

On the question of imports, it’s never a good idea to rely too much any one energy source, or any one geographical area. So there is no harm in importing some of our energy from abroad. In fact, energy diversity is good for everyone--importers and exporters alike.

Ryan, from Ardsley, NY writes:
Why do we need to go beyond the usage of foreign oil? What benefits does energy diversification bring to our economy? The environment?

Samuel Bodman
People around the world consume about 80 million barrels (more than 3 billion gallons) of oil every day. Here in the U.S. we use about one quarter of that – about 20 million barrels. As economies around the world grow, so will their demand for energy, especially crude oil. That increasing demand could lead to increasing prices. That’s part of the reality of a global economy. Over-reliance on any one form of energy also leaves us vulnerable to regimes and groups hostile to the United States. So just as the prudent investor seeks to diversify his stock portfolio, the U.S. also needs to diversity its energy portfolio. Expanding the use of alternative energy not only helps energy producers here at home – like ethanol producers and farmers; but it also helps insulate the U.S. economy from shocks caused by disruptions in supply. It’s also true that there will be a global market for the innovations we can produce. The investments we have made since 2001– almost $15 billion if you include the funding requested in the FY 2008 budget – will eventually pay returns in terms of jobs and new technologies available for export. We have some of the best and brightest minds in America working on this. We’re on the verge of some unbelievable technological breakthroughs in a whole host of areas, including biofuels, clean coal generation, and nuclear power. And, because these alternative energy sources – along with solar and wind power – produce few to no carbon emissions, they are less damaging to the environment.

David, from Clymer, PA writes:
I am a high school history teacher in Western PA. What investments is the administration making to find cleaner ways to use coal. Has any real progress been made.

Samuel Bodman
Coal is a critical source of energy for the United States-- as you in western Pennsylvania well know. And I am pleased to say that we have made remarkable progress in finding ways to make our use of coal cleaner over the last few decades. Coal-fired power plants being built today are over 90% cleaner in emissions of particulate matter compared to their counterparts in 1970, when the Clean Air Act was passed. They also must meet stringent limits for mercury emissions, a pollutant for which there was no national limitation for power plants until last spring. That is great; but there is more to be done to make coal plants even cleaner. That’s why the President’s Advanced Energy Initiative includes significant investments in making clean coal technology even better. We’re looking for ways to take advantage of the vast resources coal provides to us in an environmentally sensitive way, which means finding ways to make existing coal fired power plants operate even more efficiently. But we’re also testing new technologies that can be used to construct plants of a radically different design – ones where carbon emissions are pumped into the ground. One of our most exciting projects is FutureGen, a $1 billion project aimed at designing and building the world’s first commercial scale, coal-fired power plant that produces no significant emissions of carbon or pollutants into the atmosphere. This is an international partnership that will allow the rapid deployment of these new emissions-free technologies around the globe so that the entire world can harness the power of clean coal.

Steven, from New Haven Indiana writes:
I am a graduate student doing research on domestic nuclear energy policies. What is the future for U.S. nuclear energy? Will any new power plants be built in the U.S.?

Samuel Bodman
People from all over the political spectrum now agree that nuclear power must be part of America’s energy future. Improvements in technology make the newest generation of nuclear plants safer than ever. And nuclear power is the only existing source for considerable baseload power generation that is emissions-free. We took steps in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to facilitate the construction of new nuclear power plants in the United States without compromising safety. And so I expect we will see new plants coming on line within the next few years. We also want to help meet the growing demand for power in the developing world--and do so in an environmentally responsible way. So President Bush has proposed the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), which is a cooperative partnership to perfect the technology for recycling used nuclear fuel, and providing safe, affordable, and proliferation-resistant power plants to developing nations. Of course, the drawback of nuclear energy is the question of what to do with the spent nuclear fuel. Even if GNEP is successful, there will still be material that we will need to store safely for thousands of years. So the Department developing a permanent geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel in the belly of a mountain in the middle of the Nevada desert. We believe that Yucca Mountain can safely store used nuclear fuel for thousands of generations. Under our current plan, we believe that we can begin to store spent nuclear fuel in Yucca in a little more than a decade.

Harry, from Atlanta, GA writes:
What are the president's long term investment plans for fuel cell technology and does his administration consider fuel cells a viable alternative energy source?

Samuel Bodman
Hydrogen fuel cells are one of the technologies that—if we are successful—could totally transform the way we use energy.

I actually visited a plant where they are designing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles near Rochester, NY. The progress they are making is impressive.

To spur the development of this new technology the President - in his 2003 State of the Union Address - promised to invest $1.2 billion over five years in support of hydrogen and fuel cell technology. With the recently submitted 2008 budget request, the President has delivered on that commitment. And we are already seeing the benefits. We've lowered the cost of fuel cells more than 60 percent -- from $275 per kilowatt in 2002 to $107 in 2006. We have also lowered the cost of distributed hydrogen production from $5 per gallon of gasoline equivalent in 2003 to $3 of gasoline equivalent in 2006.

Although much progress has been made, additional work remains before hydrogen vehicles will be available for purchase. Our investment to date has kept us on schedule to meet critical 2015 targets, and we believe hydrogen fuel cell technology remains a viable long-term solution to end petroleum dependency and minimize carbon emissions.

James, from GA writes:
Since the Federal Government is subsidizing ethanol at $.51 a gallon why not subsidize the purchase of bettery powered autos and plug in hybrids? These vehicles not only will reduce or dependance on oil, help the enviroment they will help electric utilities operate more effeciently by creating demand in off peak hours. Seems like a win win to me.

Samuel Bodman
James, I completely agree with you that battery-powered and plug-in hybrid cars are a win-win for everyone. And they are a key part of what we are doing to promote new vehicle technologies that move us away from dependence on oil. We are especially excited about developing better technology that will lead to cost-competitive plug-in hybrid vehicles--which allow the battery to be charged through a regular electric power outlet. With a range of 20 miles or more on battery power before switching to gas, many drivers who commute a relatively short distance could use these cars to drive to and from work every day without using any gasoline at all.

Just this morning the President and I got to see first-hand some of this technology--including a new kit, which allows the owner of a Prius to convert his or her car, in just two hours, to a plug-in electric vehicle with superior battery capacity.

I can tell from personal experience that the President has a keen interest in this technology, which is one reason why our Department’s 2008 budget requests $41.8 million for battery and energy storage research and development. That’s a 30% increase over our request from last year.

By investing in these new technologies, we can improve battery life and make these vehicles more appealing to consumers.

Scott, from China writes:
What role has the DOE played in some vital scientific fields? Such as life sciences. Thank you,sir.

Samuel Bodman
Thanks for the question Scott. Many people don’t realize that the Department of Energy is the nation’s largest sponsor of basic research in the physical sciences -- primarily through our network of world-class scientific laboratories.

The life sciences in particular are one of those areas where I think our Department’s work has not received the full credit it deserves. For instance, that it was the Department of Energy that initiated the Human Genome Project in 1986. This project, along with other basic science research sponsored by our Department, has led over the years to the development of a host of medical technologies, including MRI’s, PET scans, and genome sequencing.

DOE-sponsored research in both the physical and the life sciences has been a major contributor to the contemporary biotech revolution, which has done so much for our economy and is leading to new scientific breakthroughs all the time.

Today, our life sciences work is focused mainly on advanced research into microbes and plants, with three primary applications in mind: 1) developing new biofuels to supply clean, home-grown energy sources; 2) engineering microbes that would help clean the environment by literally “eating” pollution; and 2) using microbes to aid in carbon sequestration. That means helping the earth absorb carbon dioxide--a leading greenhouse gas--taking it out of the atmosphere and storing it in the soil, where it can in turn be absorbed into the structure of growing plants.

This is one area that I really could go on about for a long time, but let me instead refer you to this page on our Department’s web site:

John, from Groveland Massachusetts writes:
Dear Secretary Sam Bodman, Where does our Administration see the US Energy Transportation mix in 25 years? Thank you for your attention to my inquiry

Samuel Bodman
In the broadest sense, I expect the energy – transportation mix to include considerably more biofuels than it does today.

Under President Bush, we’ve invested close to $15 billion, when you include the money we asked Congress for in the FY 2008 budget, to develop cheaper, cleaner, more reliable sources of alternative energy. That effort has come together under the umbrella of the Advanced Energy Initiative the President announced in the 2006 State of the Union. And so we are being aggressive in our pursuit of technological innovations that will allow us to increase the percentage of biofuel used in the transportation sector by a considerable amount.

In the most recent State of the Union, the President set an ambitious goal of reducing gasoline consumption by 20 percent in ten years when measured against the projected demand. We do this in two ways: First, by changing and reforming the fuel efficiency standards for light trucks and cars; second, by increasing the volume of renewable and alternative fuels used in the transportation sector to 35 billion gallons a year. That is roughly five times the targets Congress set for renewable fuels in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

But 25 years is a long time. Before we get there, we will probably realize breakthroughs in the production of cellulosic ethanol, the design of hybrid vehicles, coal-to- liquid fuels – perhaps even the manufacture of vehicles that run on hydrogen or hydrogen fuels cells. The possibilities are as limitless as the American imagination.

Samuel W. Bodman
I’ve done “Ask the White House” several times now, and I while I am always pleased to respond to the very interesting and challenging questions posed here, I always feel as though I am just scratching the surface. This is a very exciting time for energy policy, and there is a great deal of fascinating and promising work being done throughout our Department and at our National Laboratories. So, as always, I strongly encourage you to visit our web site,, to learn more about all the things we are doing to create a clean, safe, and prosperous world for future generations.

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