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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 Bodman
Energy Secretary
June 15, 2005

Samuel Bodman
Good afternoon. I am Sam Bodman, Secretary of Energy. I will be happy to answer your questions about our current energy policy, and President’s Bush plans for working with Congress to get a comprehensive energy bill passed in the next few weeks.

Jimmy, from Atlanta, GA writes:
I know this is the question of the hour, but how does the administration plan to (in the very near future) lower our dependency on foreign oil and oil in general? As an investment advisor, I find that the price of oil directly affects the growth of our economy. OPEC is of no help and we have not built a refinery in the US in many, many years. How can we curb this addiction?

Samuel Bodman
The President has said many times that if he could lower gas prices with the flip of the switch, he would gladly do it. The truth is, the energy challenges we face today have been years in the making, and they will not be resolved overnight.

A large part of the reason that oil markets are so tight right now, is that demand for petroleum is up sharply in growing economies like India, China and here in the United States. And while growing energy demand presents a challenge, the underlying cause - robust economic growth – is a good thing.

You are correct that tight refining capacity is also playing a role. To address this problem President Bush has proposed that we simplify existing regulations to make it easier for refineries to expand their capacity while maintaining strict environmental safeguards. Additionally, the President put forth an innovative proposal to work with state and local officials to encourage the construction of new refineries on military bases that have been closed, so that we can meet two needs – the need for more refining capacity and the need in many of those communities for jobs and economic growth.

The President has also directed his Administration to ensure that American consumers are not the victims of price gouging during this high-demand period. Anyone who believes that price gouging is occurring is encouraged to go to the Department of Energy website and report it. The information will be shared with the appropriate authorities and investigated.

But we also need to look at the longer term, and pursue the technological innovations that will reduce our “addiction,” as you put it, to petroleum. The President is very committed to moving the United States into the hydrogen economy--where clean and efficient hydrogen fuel cells whose only byproduct is pure water--will fuel the transportation sector of the future. The Department of Energy is working aggressively to implement the President’s Hydrogen Fuel Initiative, a $1.2 billion commitment to move hydrogen fuel cell technology from the laboratory to the showroom. We also launched the International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy to foster world-wide cooperation in this area.

Tom, from New Haven, CT writes:
It seems to me that we need to be more efficient with our energy use. What is your Department doing to along these lines, and how can you help people like me who want to conserve more and reduce our home energy bills?

Samuel Bodman
I am glad you asked this, since I just got back from a trip to Colorado to visit our National Renewable Energy Laboratory--which specializes in finding ways we can improve energy efficiency. While I was there I visited a wonderful project that is under way to build a “net-zero” energy use home. This is a joint effort between the Lab and Habitat for Humanity to provide a low-income family with a home that would over the course of a year produce as much energy as it consumes--nearly eliminating a monthly energy bill. Using the latest technology that combines solar panels, super-efficient construction and advanced materials, this project will be a model for what the home of the future will look like.

Of course, not all these technologies are available for ordinary homes right now, but there are still many things we doing. Our Department has an extensive weatherization program to improve energy efficiency in homes for low income residents. We sponsor the Energy Star label program, in conjunction with the EPA and private partners, to identify energy-efficient appliances. And we have lots of tips and suggestions for anyone who want to save energy in their home or business available at

Mike, from West Palm Beach, Fla writes:
Mr. Secretary, Thank you for taking questions today. I understand that the U.S is very dependant on forgien oil. I also understand that the U.S ships out the majority of the oil that is produced in the U.S. Why don't we just keep all the oil that we produce. Woulden't that make us a little less dependant on our frogien sellers? Thank you

Samuel Bodman
Thanks for the question. Almost all the oil that is pumped in the world is traded on a global market, no matter where it comes from. And despite the unfortunate high prices right now, that is actually the cheapest and most efficient way of bringing oil from suppliers to consumers. For one thing, there are different types of crude oil such as "light," "heavy," "sweet," and "sour" -- which may be in different demand, and thus priced somewhat differently at any given time. So it works out best to sell our oil on the open market for the best price, and buy what we need at the best price as well; “keeping” our domestically produced petroleum wouldn’t really make us better off. Besides, the U.S. produces less than half of the oil we consume, so we would still be dependent on imports for the rest.

The long-term answer is to move away from our dependence on oil altogether, which is what I was talking about in one of the previous questions.

Walter, from Edmond OK 73013 writes:
Why is this and former administrations ignoring the most serious part of the energy crisis,ie; Motor fuel demand? The current and proposed Energy Policy is seriously flawed by not addressing the need to incentitive the Automotive Industry to Immediately stop producing high horsepower ,high fuel consumption engine systems and start using existing technology to produce engine systems that are 3 to 4 times more fuel efficient and are near zero emission polution.It seems that you all are working on the wrong end of the problem.Practical application of Hydrogen fuel cell engine systems are 3 to 4 decades away. Why is it that you Just don't get it?I will appreciate your response in writing. Sincerely, Walter J. Mundy

Samuel Bodman
Mr. Mundy, in fact we are hard at work to improve vehicle efficiency! Right now, through the $165 million FreedomCAR and Vehicle Technologies Program we are working to develop more energy efficient and environmentally friendly transportation technologies to significantly reduce America’s need for petroleum. We believe this is a wise investment. Though our partnerships, we are working to improve the efficiency of internal combustion engines for passenger cars from 30 percent to 45 percent by 2010, and from 40 to 55 percent in commercial trucks by 2013. These improvements have the potential to save over one million barrels of oil per day by 2025.

Chris, from Texas writes:
I would like to know if what I've always heard was true. Are they really making energy friendly cars to save energy?

Samuel Bodman
Yes, car companies are making more energy friendly cars. And the Department of Energy is playing an important part in developing the necessary technologies to help. In addition to pursing hydrogen fuels cells, and increasing the efficiency of traditional internal combustion engines, both of which I just mentioned, we are also seeing continued progress on hybrid gas-electric cars. Trucks using clean diesel technology are so much cleaner and more efficient that we now want to extend clean diesel engines to passenger cars. And several car companies now have hybrid vehicles are on the market, which are becoming increasingly popular.

Susan, from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada writes:
Why is a 6-month supply of oil considered to be worthwhile extracting when the result is disrupting the migration and propagation of caribou species in the Alaskan wildlife refuge?

Samuel Bodman
I assume you are talking about our Administration’s proposal for opening a small portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska to energy exploration.

The answer to your question involves a couple of points. First, we are grateful that your country helps supply so much of the United States’ oil needs. In fact, we import more oil from Canada than from any other nation. Still, we would like to develop our own domestic sources of energy to the degree we can while being environmentally responsible--just as Canada is looking for ways to develop its own “oil shale” reserves.

Getting back to ANWR, new technology would allow us to drill for oil from just 2,000 acres, out the 19 million acres that make up the refuge. Also, I often tell people that oil recovery at ANWR would take place only two months out of the year. They always assume I mean the summer. But in fact, drilling would take place only for two months during the dead of winter--precisely to minimize the impact on the wildlife. The truth is, we can develop the oil and gas we need without harming the animals.

As for the belief that there is only a six month supply--well, we won’t know for sure until we look, and that means allowing environmentally-safe exploration to proceed.

Michael, from Northridge, CA writes:
Secretary Bodman,Does President Bush support the aspect of the energy bill that will allow for Federal Tax credits for the installation of Solar Power systems on businesses and residences?

Samuel Bodman
Our Administration supports the installation tax credit for solar energy technologies as drafted in the House version of the energy bill. This credit would allow for 15 percent of both qualified solar water heating and photovoltaic property on residences, up to $2,000. We are encouraging the Senate to include similar language in its version of the bill.

Judith, from Mesa, Arizona writes:
Dear Mr. Bodman,Thank you for serving such an important role in America. I believe that we can seriously change the less dependancy on foreign oil if the U.S. will get serious about biodiesel, generated from crops, animal waste, and recycled products such as scrap tires and used oil.

How does a person apply for tax credits for pollution prevention or agricultureland preservation tax credits? I believe that the small business owners can trade the tax credits to larger employers like IBM etc. for cash. Then that cash to be used on the biodiesel product development project itself. This way it would relieve the country of extra burdens of funding these type of projects.

However, tax incentive and tax credit information is hard to locate and may be even harder to implement. Any suggestions?

Thanks, Judith H.

Samuel Bodman
The President and I share your enthusiasm about biodiesel as a way to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. In fact, President Bush recently visited a biodiesel plant near Richmond, Virginia, marking the first time a president has visited a biodiesel plant. During his visit, President Bush called biodiesel “one of our nation’s most promising alternative fuel sources” and discussed the importance of a comprehensive energy plan to wean the United States from foreign petroleum. The President has also asked Congress to extend his proposed tax credit of $4,000 for every American who purchases a hybrid vehicle to include clean diesel cars and trucks as well.

Daniel, from Great Barrington, MA writes:
Hi Mr. Secretary, My great-grandfather invented a oil drill bit back in the early 1900's and was a pioneer in the oil fields of Spindletop, TX and a co-founder of Texaco. My question is what is the Energy Dept. doing to ward off climate change? And when will a hydrogen car be commercially viable and ready to be sold to the general public? Thanks.

Samuel Bodman
Daniel, it sounds like your grandfather was an interesting man. Regarding climate change: The Administration has a very robust climate change program. In fact, we are on track to meet the goal of reducing greenhouse gas intensity (that is, the concentration of gasses believed to cause global warming) by 18 percent by 2012.

We are implementing innovative programs with multiple international partners, and we are driving new technologies that will transform our energy use. We believe that by working together with other nations, we can find technologies that will promote economic growth, cut pollution to protect public health, and reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted into the atmosphere.

On hydrogen cars--the President’s goal is to have hydrogen fuel-cell cars available by the year 2020.

Karen, from Pittsburgh writes:
I have been reading about the possibility of building some new nuclear plants in the US. Is this true? I am very concerned about this because we have no safe place to store the waste from the plants we have now and new plants would only make the situation worse. I am hoping, for the welfare of all of the Americans alive and those not yet born,that we, as an intelligent group of people will work on the sources of power available to us that will not do irreparable damage to our environment. Sometimes people have to come before extreme profits

Samuel Bodman
I think we would all agree that people always come before profits. What is more difficult to agree on is the best way to meet our growing energy needs while also being good stewards of the environment. I understand people’s concerns about nuclear power. But in terms of impact on the environment, nuclear is actually a very good energy source: it produces no pollution or greenhouse gasses. In fact, nuclear power is one of the few technologies we have today that allows us to produce large amounts of electricity for our growing energy needs, with no emissions. That is why the President is encouraging the building new nuclear powers plants that are clean, safe and reliable.

No new nuclear power plants have been built since the 1970’s. The 103 plants we currently have will go offline as they get older. So unless newer, better ones are constructed, we will be forced to rely more and more on coal--which currently produces the majority of our electricity. But the environmental challenges of coal are much greater than nuclear. It is true that we need to find a safe and secure repository for nuclear waste, and this is one of the President’s top energy priorities. Congress needs to help us develop such a facility through the energy legislation we hope to see passed this summer.

Paul, from Texas writes:
What is the plan for electrical power infrastructure maintenance. Will we let private companies sink or swim, possibly leaving thousands in the dark? I don't want to pay for infrastructure that I don't use, but I do expect electrical power every day. Thanks and God bless.Paul K.

Samuel Bodman
Federal Law reserves the regulation and oversight of electric power infrastructure maintenance strictly to the States. For Texas, that responsibility would reside with the Texas Public Utilities Commission. Texas, like every state, must find the right medium between ensuring reliability and maintaining affordable electricity rates for consumers.

To help provide some national guidance on this important issue, I recently announced the creation of the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, which will lead national efforts to modernize the electric grid, enhance security and reliability of the energy infrastructure, and facilitate recovery from disruptions to energy supply. This is a major step toward greater electricity reliability, but we need the support of Congress to keep moving forward. In part, that means passing comprehensive energy legislation that includes a provision making utility compliance with reliability standards mandatory and enforceable by the federal government.

Debbie, from Sterling, CO writes:
Do you believe that tree farming and using the trees farmed as biomass for fuel in such applications as electrical power plants, and fuel for transportation is the answer to our energy problems or is it drilling more wells here on our own soil that will fix the problem? Oh, and of course mining more coal for electricity? I firmly believe that we can make a huge difference if we gradually phase out coal and oil and use wood biomass and other biomass for energy and of course develop from biomass a source of fuel to burn for transportation. Thank you very much.

Samuel Bodman
Biomass is a critical component of our efforts to expand our energy diversity and enhance our use of renewable energy sources. Biomass is second only to hydro power in generating energy from renewable sources. One promising biofuel, ethanol, is a renewable source of energy derived from home-grown corn. With fairly minor modifications, vehicles can be made to run on blended fuels that are 85 percent ethanol and only 15 percent gasoline--which could help greatly in reducing our dependence on foreign sources of oil.

Dan, from Pittsburgh writes:
Why doesn't the President support raising CAFE standards as part of his energy bill?

Samuel Bodman
The President does support increasing fuel economy standards in a way that saves fuel, saves lives and preserves American jobs. We believe that fuel economy standards are best set not by Congress, but by the experts at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, who can take into account all of the factors required by law.

In April 2003, the President’s Administration implemented the first increase in CAFE standards for light trucks and SUVs in over a decade, increasing the standards from 20.7 miles per gallon in model year 2004 to 22.2 miles per gallon in model year 2007. As a result, new light trucks and SUVs sold this year meet higher mileage standards than ever before. And we have proposed ideas for reform that would help the CAFE system work more effectively.

In our view, the fuel savings provision in the Senate energy bill would result in massive CAFE increases over too short of a time period and lead to downsizing of vehicles, increasing risks to passenger safety. Amendments that would increase this fuel savings number would only make this problem worse.

Samuel Bodman

Thank you for your questions. I have participated in this forum a few times now, and I always find it informative to see the kinds of the questions people have. It’s also encouraging to see how much interest there is in our energy policy. Thanks again.

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