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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.

Andy Karsner
Assistant Energy Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

March 27, 2007

Andy Karsner
Thanks for having me. This is my first time on Ask the White House. I’m eager to chat with you today and to talk about the Administration's bold energy initiatives. For the past two days, the President has been viewing demonstrations of Alternative and Flexible-Fuel Vehicles that have emerged from Department of Energy-funded technologies and programs. Just today the President visited a local postal facility in Washington, DC, to look at some of the newest and most efficient alternative fuel vehicles which are required to make up approximately 75 percent of our federal fleet. We can and we must succeed in bringing Americans together around this great national cause with the sense of urgency it merits. I appreciate your interest and I'm happy to answer any questions you have.

Jeffrey, from Westfield, MA writes:
Knowing the issue this nation is having about renewable energy, why has the current administration not put more emphasis on finding alternative energy sources and requiring companies and manufacturers to change their practices? I understand that it is a matter of economics for the companies, but we need to make a change as a nation before it is too late.

Andy Karsner
President Bush has provided a clear and compelling vision for our energy future. In 2006, he proposed the Advanced Energy Initiative, which challenged Americans to permanently change the way we power our homes, offices, and vehicles. For example, as part of AEI, he proposed new funding for cellulosic ethanol, plug in hybrid vehicles, wind power, solar energy, and nuclear power. These initiatives are beginning to take effect.

Just last month, DOE selected teams for up to $168 million to help reduce the cost of solar energy. And in February, we announced up to $385 million for development of cellulosic ethanol biorefineries. We are eager to engage in even more work with the private sector and universities to continue supporting the President’s Advanced Energy Initiative.

It is important to point out that in his 2007 State of the Union, the President laid out bold new initiatives for energy. His Initiative aimed at displace 20 percent of U.S. gasoline usage with alternative fuels by 2017. What makes this goal so ambitious and distinct is that it comes with a policy that asks Congress to mandate our national aspiration into law. Seeking 20 percent reduction of our gas consumption is historic and unprecedented in its ambitious size, scope and timetable and a worthy goal for a great nation to mobilize itself to achieve. The President broke through tired, outdated ideas about one party being for efficiency and the other for supply and called on Congress to address both on a bipartisan basis. We will work with Congress to return legislation to the President that boost the growth of clean, renewable sources and modernize and increase CAFÉ standards to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Cliff, from Brimfield Ohio writes:
Secretary Karsner: When it comes to energy alternatives. Are there any that will make an impact in the near future? I think I read that most of these alternatives are years away in making an impact. In some cases it says that we are USING more than these alternatives will be capable of just keeping us EVEN let alone AHEAD. And what happens to the cost of say food in producing some of these alternatives? Thank You

Andy Karsner
There will not likely be a single, alternative fuel source that will completely replace oil or (other fossil fuels). Our energy future depends on a diversified portfolio of clean, domestic, affordable energy technologies that address different energy uses – including electricity generation, transportation, and efficient consumption by vehicles and the buildings in which we live and work. Though renewable fuels will have a greater impact over the longer term, many are having a significant effect right now. For example, E85 - a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline - is already available in nearly 1,100 fueling stations; E10 ethanol blend is available in approximately one-third of stations nationwide! Last year, the United States surpassed Brazil as the world’s leading producer of ethanol, and has grown at a record rate since the Administration began in 2001. As for wind power, there is currently more than 11,000 Megawatts of installed wind capacity in the United States – more half of this has been installed since President Bush came into office. We believe wind and other renewable sources can constitute 20 percent or more of our national generating needs.

You mentioned a concern over the cost of food. Until now, most ethanol has been produced from corn. But President Bush’s Biofuels Initiative provides leadership and funding for developing what we call cellulosic ethanol - ethanol produced from non-edible portions of food and agricultural waste. The President’s Biofuels Initiative aims to make cellulosic ethanol cost competitive with gasoline by 2012 – and this isn’t just pie in the sky; we’re funding major projects that will help get us there.

Just last month, I joined the Secretary of Energy as he announced DOE will fund up to $385 million for the construction of biorefineries, which produce cellulosic ethanol. Extremely promising groups were selected for this work and we’re eager to see how they’ll play a critical role in helping to bring cellulosic ethanol to market, in addition to teaching us how we can produce it in a more cost effective manner.

And we need to keep in mind that as cellulosic ethanol becomes cost-competitive with traditional ethanol and the cost of gasoline, the market will find a natural ceiling for corn-based ethanol. I should point out though, that multiple studies by the USDA show that growth in ethanol will have little long-term impact on food prices – additionally, a joint USDA-DOE study found that enough biomass feedstock could be sustainably produced to replace 30% of transportation fuel.

We are making a substantial impact today, with enormous and unprecedented rates growth and have every reason to be confident that renewable sources will contribute significantly to our clean, secure energy future.

Marcus, from Princeton, New Jersey writes:
Most people would invest in more energy efficient and renewable energy products such as solar panels and UV window tinting if they understood the long-term savings despite the initial expense. What is the administration doing to demonstrate to the average homeowner that investing in these energy efficient products will save money over the long run? Are incentives and federal benefits being provided and adequately advertised to the home owners?

Andy Karsner
That's a great question! It's a recurring challenge for us to reach out to educate the public on efficiency products, that are available now and cost-effective. We do this through many program approaches. First, you may notice the bright yellow energy-saving labeling on almost any white good or appliance you'd purchase at a local retailer. This is also true for energy-efficient windows for home construction or retrofit, which are labeled to rate the "low-e" factor that details the window's efficiency and how it performs in different parts of the country based on climate. Other product labeling and promotion that we pursue includes the reliability of the Energy Star brand, which details to consumers how much they will save over what period of time. Energy Star products are tested and qualified by both DOE and our counterparts at the Environmental Protection Agency.

And yes, you'll be happy to know there are numerous tax credits and incentives that the President signed into law with the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Everything from adding insulation to your attic, to purchasing a solar rooftop or a hybrid or alternative vehicle may qualify you to save valuable tax dollars off your bottom line. Most of these incentives are incorporated into popular tax preparation software packages and most accounting professionals as well as the IRS website hold very useful and detailed information about available incentives. For more information on tax credits, visit .

Rob, from Nashville writes:
Why isn't their a higher emphasis on conservation in our energy policy?

Andy Karsner
This is a good question and is among the first I asked myself when I was sworn into office. I’d like to make a distinction, first, however. I have always looked at this in terms of “efficiency.” For example, conservation implies doing less with less; efficiency implies doing more with less. Having said that, it’s important to keep in mind that one of the biggest sources of energy we have, is the energy we currently waste. So across the board, we’re working to get the most out of our energy sources both at the federal level, as the largest consumer of energy in the world, and also for individual consumers so Americans can save energy wherever and whenever possible. Whether it’s installing a programmable thermostat, replacing normal incandescent light bulbs with Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs, or buying Energy Star-certified appliances, small and simple steps can add up to real savings and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To learn more, you might check out the Energy Star® website at

The President has also put a premium on energy efficiency efforts. In January of this year, just one day after he announced his Twenty In Ten Initiative – which seeks to reduce U.S. gasoline consumption by twenty percent in ten years – he signed an historic Executive Order aimed at increasing efficiency in federal facilities, at least 30 percent above what is required by law!

Energy Secretary Bodman has also made clear that “energy efficiency is part and parcel of the Advanced Energy Initiative and it is a priority.” This week marks my one year anniversary at DOE and in my sworn testimony before congress a year ago, I made it a point to note that “efficiency is more than just intelligent economics, it is a moral imperative.” I feel strongly about acting upon that principle.

To this end, the Administration is presently strengthening our efficiency portfolio through technology, regulation, communication, education, and outreach.

On the technology side, DOE’s track record is extraordinary – with some of the greatest returns per tax dollar of any federal government spending. For example, a refrigerator manufactured in 2001 uses 63% less energy than a similar 1980 model. We’re working with all major lighting manufacturers not just to increase usage of Compact Fluorescent Lightbulb, but also to move beyond them to ultra-efficient Solid State/LED lighting.

On the regulatory side, Secretary Bodman and I have an ambitious roadmap and timetable to clear a 30-year backlog on rulemakings for appliance standards.

In DOE’s Vehicle Technologies program, we’re helping increase efficiency of trucks and cars through lighter weight materials, battery storage technologies, and high-efficiency engines. In fact, some of the most modern and efficient clean diesel engines that will hit the market in 2009 were developed by DOE. Much of the hybrid vehicle technologies you see today include electronic systems and batteries were also developed by DOE.

DOE is also conducting energy savings assessments through our Save Energy Now campaign. DOE sends in experts who can identify potential energy-saving opportunities at some of most energy-intensive facilities around the nation. We’re proud that in just 200 ESAs, DOE has identified 50 trillion British Thermal Units (Btus) of natural gas that could be saved - roughly equivalent to the natural gas used in 700,000 American homes!

These are just some of the ways we are elevating the priority of conservation and efficiency.

Josh, from San Diego writes:
Dear Mr. Karsner,I am just interested to know what sort of steps the government will hopefully be taking to ensure a more enviromentally healty future, which is of course crucial to our own future existance. Are there any sorts of regulatory laws being passed against sources of emission of large amounts of harmful material. I appreciate your time in answering my question. Sincerely, Josh

Andy Karsner
Our energy policy has three important elements: economic competitiveness, environmental concerns, and national security. When we consider energy policy, we have to consider these three elements. Environmental concerns, reducing pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions are especially important priorities. And the potential for efficiency to limit our future generation needs could yield both environmental and economic dividends.

The recent unprecedented growth in wind and solar technologies allows us to project substantial displacement of carbon emissions at utility scale and lower the carbon footprint of the build environment which accounts for approximately 40 percent of all emissions. Solar and wind energy are both clean and emissions-free sources of power, but so is nuclear power. As I’ve said before, there is no silver bullet. No single source of energy is the key to reducing our dependence on oil. With electricity demand projected to increase by nearly 50 percent over the next 25 years, we need to be both strategic and sensible about durable policies that enable market to meet this demand.

Amanda, from Baltimore writes:
I'm sure you have made a choice as to what the alternative energy will be, but I was wondering if the impact on that part of the economy was taken into consideration? i.e. if you use corn for fuel, corn for other reasons will be moer expensive and therefore, make it harder for people to buy it. i.e poor mexicans familes that live off of corn tortillas will not be able to buy as many (i believe we export corn to them, but im not sure)

Andy Karsner
Every source of energy has a measurable impact, benefits and potential drawbacks. Government plays a crucial role in developing both a policy and investment environment in which emerging clean energy technologies can flourish. The government does not pick winners. I am open to talking with and meeting with anyone who has serious ideas about helping break this nation’s addiction to oil and address the serious challenge of climate change at the fasted possible rate. We owe our children and the American people nothing less. And to that end, we are and will continue to set our sites on a diversified energy portfolio. Corn-based ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, solar, wind and nuclear power, as well as clean coal are some of the key sources of energy DOE is currently investing in. In the end however, while we set near and long-term goals to work toward, the ultimate goal is to enable the free market to best determine what mix of clean, alternative and renewable energy technologies will be used by Americans.

You point out the concern over the price of corn. Corn and grain-based ethanol so far have provided the vast majority of ethanol. But corn-based ethanol will likely have a natural volume limit. Therefore, we are pursuing the development of fuels from non-food agricultural waste. According to a DOE-USDA study, 30 percent of transportation fuel could be derived from biomass in a sustainable manner.

Tammy, from Baton Rouge writes:
As a Coordinator for the Greater Baton Rouge Clean Cities Coalition, I just wanted to suggest that DOE take advantage of the 86 members of the program to implement the goals of the "20 in 10" plan. We're more than ready for the challenge and I look forward to exceeding those goals.

Andy Karsner
Thanks for writing in Tammy! We are so proud of you and our Clean Cities programs across the nation. You are the ones that truly make a difference deploying and commercializing clean energy and efficiency technologies as they come to bear. You must be delighted that the President spent this morning saluting Clean Cities' efforts here in the DC metropolitan area.

For those of you who don't know about the outstanding outreach efforts that folks like Tammy undertake every day to make America more secure, competitive and environmentally friendly, their mission supports local decisions to adopt practices that contribute to the reduction of petroleum consumption. For example, they have been a leading force for proliferation of alternative fueling stations and E-85 pumps, as well as highly efficient mass transit fleets.

As a measure of our confidence, we have proposed nearly doubling the Program's budget for the coming year, and I am hopeful that we can get Baton Rouge, and other cities and regions of the country to unite behind the President's historic and unprecedented targets to mandate reductions in gasoline consumption.

Thanks for all you do!

Nathan, from Lancaster, CA writes:
Will we ever be energy independent?

Andy Karsner
There has been a lot of debate about energy independence. If by independence, you mean the ability to exercise leverage over our energy future and direction, then I personally believe the answer is YES.

Our focus is on building new forms of domestic, clean, and affordable energy, so that we can maximize our national security, environmental well-being, and economic competitiveness. It’s essential that we diversify our global energy sources and continuously engage in evolving relationships with friendly energy trading partners. While we may likely continue to import energy for the foreseeable future, our ultimate goal is to have far greater leverage by growing domestic energy supply and increasing efficiency. In this way, we can assure that this great nation is less vulnerable to those who seek to harm us and our economy and whose interests are hostile to our free and democratic way of life. Of course, increasingly the “world is flat” economically, irreversibly globalized, and becoming more interdependent, and we must continue to invest in and employ energy technology to accommodate our growth and quality of living, as global competition increases.

Samuel, from Nairobi writes:
Has the US goverment ratified the Kyoto protocol and if not why?

Andy Karsner

According to the constitution the Senate has responsibility for ratifying treaties, such as the Kyoto Protocol. A straw poll of the Senate was conducted in the mid-90s and was roundly defeated, which led to a formal vote never transpiring. There has never been particularly unified and strong support for the Kyoto Treaty in the United States Congress due to its lack of enforcement and applicability for some of the world's fastest growing emitters, like China, India, and Brazil. Part of the problem with an inequitable approach to global climate change conventions is that rather than reduce global emissions, it may have the unintended consequence of moving the emissions elsewhere. For example, when it becomes unprofitable for a highly regulated aluminum smelter to close down in Europe and reopen with cheaper costs and more lenient environmental and air quality standards in a developing nation, the atmosphere does not truly benefit. We’d just be moving the problem elsewhere.

We take the position that whatever regulatory and/or voluntary regime may be negotiated or agreed to, we will need to accelerate the market penetration of clean, green, emissions-free and low emission sources of energy to accommodate the growth in energy demand we project. That is why we have invested in excess of 29 billion dollars, over the last six years, in climate change science and technologies, and are world leaders in producing much of the necessary solutions that will be applied to lowering greenhouse gas emissions as a top line priority.

Many publications have pointed to the irony that United States has been at least as effective and in many cases more effective than many of our European counterparts who signed the Kyoto Protocol. As noted in his State of the Union address, the President is committed to addressing the serious challenge of global climate change and we are actively engaged in an evolving dialogue with our European partners and the world's largest and fastest growing economies, including India and China (through the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate) on steps we can agree on to address the concerns in our respective countries with immediacy, as well as when Kyoto expires in 2012.

Andy Karsner
Thanks so much for taking the time to ask me questions today. I appreciate everyone's interest in helping us address our addiction to oil and the serious challenge of climate change. My apologies for not being able to answer all of your questions. I look forward to coming back soon.

You can find more information on DOE programs at To sign up for our weekly newsletter, go to I hope all of you will continue to support America's clean energy future by helping rally bipartisan support for the President's goal of reducing gasoline consumption by 20 percent within the decade. Cheers.

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