WASHINGTON -- President Bush last night called for cutting US gasoline usage by 20 percent in the next decade, by dramatically increasing the production of alternative fuels such as ethanol and hiking fuel efficiency standards in cars, sport utility vehicles, and trucks.
But on the day that former vice president Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth" -- addressing the dangers of global warming -- received an Academy Award nomination for best documentary, the president offered no plan for a mandatory greenhouse gas emission limit, as many had urged.
Many environmentalists and a growing number of corporations believe a cap on industrial and utility emissions needs to be the centerpiece of efforts to reduce the US role in global warming and create a new market for clean-energy technologies.
Bush has long backed a voluntary reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, which trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming, instead of a mandatory cap.
The president's focus was squarely on reduction of gasoline consumption.
The Union of Concerned Scientists calculated that to meet his 20 percent goal, the gas mileage for cars, SUVs, minivans, and trucks would have to increase to an average of 34 miles per gallon by 2017.
Now, cars must meet a 27.5-miles-per-gallon standard while trucks must meet 22.5 miles per gallon by the end of next year.
Bush said that the nation remained far too dependent on foreign oil -- 60 percent of the country's oil was imported last year -- and that "it is in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply, and the way forward is through technology," including greater production of ethanol and new generations of fuel-efficient vehicles.
Critics said Bush gave too much latitude to the Department of Transportation to raise fuel economy standards of cars sold in the United States, and offered no guarantee of a set standard. The administration plan assumes that to reach the 20 percent goal, fuel efficiency would have to increase 4 percent a year.
"If he wants credit for proposing improvements in fuel economy of 4 percent a year, then he should propose a numeric standard that prevents backsliding," said Representative Edward Markey, a Democrat from Malden and one of the House's most influential members on environmental issues.
Bush's other initiative to reduce reliance on foreign oil would be to increase production of alternative fuels such as ethanol. Philip Clapp , president of National Environmental Trust , a Washington-based advocacy group, called that portion of Bush's plan "a pipe dream."
The Bush plan would require the production of 35 billion gallons of alternative fuel per year, most of it ethanol, by 2017.
That would compare with 4.4 billion gallons of ethanol produced last year. He said that would require additional planting of corn over an area as large as Kansas and Iowa combined.
Ron Litterer , an Iowa farmer who is vice president of the National Corn Growers Association , said Clapp's figures were too high. "We will see our acreage shift more to corn, but we're seeing a huge gain in technology that will use more than corn to make ethanol," he said.
In addition, he said the president's proposal will greatly help the Midwest's economy by boosting grain production.
The White House's plan offered little for two other prominent alternative energy sources --wind and solar.
That greatly disappointed Randall Swisher , president of American Wind Energy Association , a trade group based in Washington.
Swisher had hoped for a 10-year extension in wind energy tax credits as well as a requirement that all utilities buy 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.
"This has not been as high a priority for the White House as I wish it were," he said.
Now, Swisher, environmentalists, and corporate officials will turn their attention to the Democratic-controlled Congress, where several bills on global warming and other environmental issues await.
John Donnelly can be reached at email@example.com