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Bush touts oil alternatives

Calling America's dependence on foreign oil "a national security problem," President Bush hailed technology as the solution Monday and offered a laundry list of alternative energy sources.

Bush reiterated his determination to wean the country off oil as he kicked off a two-day tour to promote new energy sources. He called the high cost of oil "a hidden tax" that threatens economic security.

Critics dismissed the trip as a publicity stunt and questioned the president's sincerity.

"It's great that the president is talking about our addiction to oil, but his policies are feeding the habit," said Jeremy Symons, director of the National Wildlife Federation's global warming campaign.

"The budget that came out funds less than half of what the recent energy bill promised for renewable energy and energy efficiency - the two most readily available opportunities to break our addiction to oil," Symons said.

Most benefits from the alternative energy sources that Bush favors are years away from practical use, and some of the technology is unproven or financially impractical now. Even so, Bush offered an optimistic vision.

"Our nation is on the threshold of some new energy technology that I think will startle the American people," he said.

For example:

Lithium-ion batteries, now used in cell phones and laptops, could make electric cars far more efficient.

In Glendale, Wis., a Milwaukee suburb, Bush visited a battery testing facility operated by Johnson Controls, a leader in lithium-ion research.

"Start picturing what I'm talking about. You've got your car, you pull in, you plug it in the wall," Bush later told a group in downtown Milwaukee.

Advances in production of ethanol, fuel derived from corn and other crops, could make it possible to provide a cheap replacement for gasoline.

Critics say Bush's commitment to the research - $150-million next year - is minuscule compared to the need.

Bush has set a target date of 2020 for large-scale production of commercially viable hydrogen-powered cars that emit no pollution. Skeptics question whether the goal is achievable.

For energy in homes and offices, Bush promoted wind and solar power, increased use of liquefied natural gas, cleaner coal-fired electricity plants and nuclear energy.

In Auburn Hills, Mich., near Detroit, Bush toured a company that specializes in solar panels. The company, United Solar, will build its second manufacturing facility this summer and is planning a third to keep up with demand.

Bush planned to end the day in Golden, Colo., where he will visit the federal government's leading research facility for alternative fuels this morning. Bush's call for increased spending on alternative fuels has been good news for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.