WASHINGTON - One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic adviser said Wednesday that the president didn't mean it literally.
What the president meant, they said in a conference call with reporters, was that alternative fuels could displace an amount of oil imports equivalent to most of what America is expected to import from the Middle East in 2025.
But America still would import oil from the Middle East, because that's where the greatest oil supplies are.
The president's State of the Union reference to Mideast oil made headlines nationwide Wednesday because of his assertion that "America is addicted to oil" and his call to "break this addiction."
Bush vowed to fund research into better batteries for hybrid vehicles and more production of the alternative fuel ethanol, setting a lofty goal of replacing "more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025."
He pledged to "move beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past."
Not exactly, though, it turns out.
"This was purely an example," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said.
He said the broad goal was to displace foreign oil imports, from anywhere, with domestic alternatives. He acknowledged that oil is a freely traded commodity bought and sold globally by private firms. Consequently, it would be very difficult to reduce imports from any single region, especially the most oil-rich region on Earth.
Asked why the president used the words "the Middle East" when he didn't really mean them, one administration official said Bush wanted to dramatize the issue in a way that "every American sitting out there listening to the speech understands." The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he feared that his remarks might get him in trouble.
Presidential adviser Dan Bartlett made a similar point in a briefing before the speech. "I think one of the biggest concerns the American people have is oil coming from the Middle East. It is a very volatile region," he said.
Through the first 11 months of 2005, the United States imported nearly 2.2 million barrels per day of oil from the Middle East nations of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq. That's less than 20 percent of the total U.S. daily imports of 10.062 million barrels.
Imports account for about 60 percent of U.S. oil consumption.
Alan Hubbard, the director of the president's National Economic Council, projects that America will import 6 million barrels of oil per day from the Middle East in 2025 without major technological changes in energy consumption.
The Bush administration believes that new technologies could reduce the total daily U.S. oil demand by about 5.26 million barrels through alternatives such as plug-in hybrids with rechargeable batteries, hydrogen-powered cars and new ethanol products.
That means the new technologies could reduce America's oil appetite by the equivalent of what we're expected to import from the Middle East by 2025, Hubbard said.
But we'll still be importing plenty of oil, according to the Energy Department's latest projection.
"In 2025, net petroleum imports, including both crude oil and refined products, are expected to account for 60 percent of demand ... up from 58 percent in 2004," according to the Energy Information Administration's 2006 Annual Energy Outlook.
Some experts think Bush needs to do more to achieve his stated goal.
"We can achieve energy independence from the Middle East, but not with what the president is proposing," said Craig Wolfe, the president of Americans for Energy Independence in Studio City, Calif. "We need to slow the growth in consumption. Our organization believes we need to do something about conservation" and higher auto fuel-efficiency standards.
© 2006 KR Washington Bureau and wire service sources