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Public Papers - 1989

Remarks at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln

1989-06-13

Thank all of you -- Governor Orr, distinguished leader of this State, for those kind words, that warm introduction. My thanks also to Dr. Roskens, Chancellor Massengale, Chairperson Hoke, and all the other officials at this wonderful institution. And I also want to thank Dr. Peter Jenkins, my tour guide, who runs the Center for Engine Technology here at the University of Nebraska. And also my special thanks to three members of my Cabinet -- Secretary Watkins, Secretary Lujan, and Secretary Clayton Yeutter -- for joining me here today.

I hope that this symbolizes to all of you the importance that we place not just on the research that's going on here at the university, at this wonderful university, but the importance of agriculture and Nebraska -- the two go together. And we're here to salute you. And Secretary Yeutter, as we've heard, is a graduate of this fine school, and let me put it this way: I'm delighted to have a Cornhusker in my Cabinet. And we have several Members of Congress traveling with me today. Your own Doug Bereuter is here, Congressman from Nebraska -- someplace over here -- and then three Wyoming officials, Senator Wallop, Senator Alan Simpson, and Congressman Craig Thomas over here -- maybe they'd stand up. And lastly, I'd like to thank the Air Force Band from Offutt -- first-class music. Anybody who can keep you all awake for 2 hours must have something going for them. So, thank you, sir, thank you very much. Thank you so much for being with us.

I would have made it here a few minutes earlier, but we've been driving around looking for a parking place. [Laughter] Actually, I've come from Dr. Jenkins' lab, where I got a short seminar on engine testing and alternative fuels -- fascinating, trailblazing work. You can't help but see it to realize that we have a window to the future. And I'm a believer in alternative fuels and conservation. This winter I'm putting windmills in Washington. [Laughter] Henceforth, hot air is going to heat the entire city.

Let me tell you a bit about the pathbreaking work that I've just seen in this engine lab. They've got two cars hooked up to emissions monitors, one running on gasoline, the other on new ethanol blend that they're working on; and the results are impressive. The proof is right there before you in the readout: the car runs cleaner on the ethanol mix. And they're confident down there. I asked about performance, and they told me to take a car out on a test drive. I don't do a lot of driving these days, so I'm not sure that I'm the best judge, but I enjoyed the ride. And it had a lot of pickup -- certainly got more pickup than the 14,000-pound limousine sitting outside this place. [Laughter]

Many of you know that yesterday I announced some sweeping changes to the Clean Air Act -- the first amendments to that landmark legislation in more than a decade. And whether you live in the city or in the country or on a farm or near a factory, the changes that we're calling for are going to improve the quality of the air we breathe and, therefore, the quality of life for all Americans.

This is a nation rich in the majesty of nature. In the past 24 hours, I've seen some of the magnificent sights that this great land has to offer: nature renewing itself in Yellowstone after those devastating fires; the Tetons rising up, postcard-perfect, from the Wyoming plateau. Sights like those make me all the more determined that this nation dedicate itself to the restoration and renewal of our natural heritage.

My approach is driven by a new kind of environmentalism, built on five principles: harnessing the power of technology and the marketplace, promoting State and local environmental initiatives, encouraging a common international effort, concentrating on pollution prevention, and strict enforcement of environmental standards. Today I want to focus on the first of these five, on ways that we can harness the power of technology in service to our environment.

The work you're doing here puts Lincoln on the leading edge of that effort. Alternative fuel is going to help us reconcile the automobile to our environment. And right now, 81 American cities exceed Federal clean air standards. Expanded use of alternative fuels is a key element in my plan to guarantee that 20 years from now every American, in every city across this country, will breathe clean air. Alternative fuels are going to help us get there. In the nine urban areas with the worst ozone pollution, we're requiring a million clean-fuel vehicles on the street by the year 1997 -- a million a year by the year 1997. Our clean air plan also calls for cities with the worst carbon monoxide problems to use oxygenated fuels to cut emissions during peak winter months.

And our plan preserves flexibility. The urban areas targeted for cleanup can opt out of requirements, provided they find other ways to make equivalent cuts in pollution levels. And although we're proposing some tough pollution control measures, we're going to develop ways to allow automobile manufacturers and fuel companies to trade emissions reductions credits among themselves, so long as the overall emissions standard is met. And our goal -- clean air. And we're going to achieve it in the most efficient way possible, but make no mistake about it: we are going to achieve our goal.

I came out to the University of Nebraska to get a firsthand look at one of the clean air technologies of tomorrow: an alternative fuel called ETBE, made from ethanol and Nebraska corn. I thought I left all those acronyms behind me in Washington. Incidentally, ETBE is short for ethyl tertiary-butyl ether -- maybe the acronym isn't so bad after all. [Laughter] But ETBE isn't quite a household word, but it may just become one, based on what I've seen today. Right now, ethanol-blend fuels account for only a fraction of America's overall gasoline consumption -- about 8 percent. And that's going to change in the years ahead. Gasohol, ETBE, natural gas-based fuels like methanol, CNG, and MTBE -- all are going to play a role in a transition to cleaner, more efficient engines.

Cutting auto exhaust is an effective avenue to cleaner air. Motor vehicles produce about two-thirds of all the carbon monoxide emissions and about 40 percent of all ozone pollution -- chemical threats to our environment that we have all had to live with. And we're learning every day that pollution respects no borders. There's no safe haven from the damaging long-term effect of chronic environmental abuse. Exhaust pollution isn't just a big-city problem anymore. We know it's time to cut exhausts, and the question then is: How?

In this great country of ours, we shouldn't have to choose between clean air and continued progress, between sound ecology and sustained economic growth. The answer isn't to shut off our engines and throw away our keys. That's a horse-and-buggy solution to a 21st-century problem, and we can do better than that. We've got to follow your lead, push forward technologies that promise cleaner fuels for the future. And there is more the automobile industry can, and will, do; but it's time now to produce cleaner fuels our cars will burn in the future.

Let me tell you just a little of what I learned in your lab. Results so far show that gas blended with ETBE additive lowers environmentally harmful emissions and increases engine performance. That's a promising combination. Think about what that means: ETBE and other alternative fuels can help us meet more stringent air quality standards and strengthen our domestic energy industry at the same time.

And America must work towards energy independence. You know, last year 37 percent of the oil that America consumed was imported, and so far this year, that figure's up to almost 40 percent. And that trend means trouble. We worked hard to cut our consumption of foreign oil, and I will not stand by and watch our country slip back into a dangerous state of dependency, wide open to the next oil shock from some country halfway around the world. We're not going to do that in this country. We've got to plan for the future now. We need secure, reliable sources of energy right here at home. Alternative fuels are an American answer.

And take a look at ETBE. It's made from ethanol, which I've long supported. And ethanol's made from corn and other grains we grow in abundance. And that's good for American farmers, and it's good for all American taxpayers who are now paying more than billion a year in corn price supports. Ethanol is a homegrown energy alternative. And that's good for national security, and that's good for our trade deficit. And ethanol produces a fuel that burns cleaner. And that's good for our environment -- just plain and simple, good for our environment. A source of energy that's clean, abundant, and made right here in the United States -- three good reasons why ethanol and ETBE are fuels of the future.

I've got great faith in farm country. Some folks might be surprised to see the kind of work going on here, to see Nebraska leading the way on alternative fuels; but we all know the heartland's been high tech for a long time. The American farmer has long been the most productive and efficient in the world. You've put food on America's table, and now you're going to help America fill up its tank. The modern farmer is as comfortable talking about gene splicing and biotechnology as he is taking the wheel off a tractor -- you've been pioneering in agriculture for years. And I'm not surprised to see you moving from agriculture to energy -- and a car that runs on corn.

And Nebraska's going to make it work. These alternative fuels are going to take the market by storm -- kind of like the Big Red [University of Nebraska football team] rolling into Norman, Oklahoma. You know, what you're doing here will mean cleaner air in Los Angeles and New York and dozens of cities in between now plagued by smog and air pollution. And that's the kind of environmental impact that can improve the quality of life across America and around the world.

And we won't stop with alternative fuels. In the future, we're going to be using other technological alternatives, like biodegradables in the battle against litter and waste disposal, to ease the threats to our environment. Out here there's always been a strong environmental ethic. In this part of the country, taking care of the land is a way of life -- it's natural. And that's why I know when I call on all Americans to make renewal and restoration our new environmental watchwords, I can count on you.

So, let me say to all of you here today in this magnificent auditorium, stadium, area of combat -- [laughter] -- all Nebraskans should be proud of the pioneer work being done here at this great university. It's been a privilege for me as President of the United States to visit this great State, to listen, to learn, to catch a glimpse of progress in the making.

And for those of you in the overflow room and those along the streets from the airport into the city, let me thank you for that warm Nebraska welcome -- I'll never forget it. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 3:25 p.m. in the Bob Devaney Sports Center on the campus of the university. In his opening remarks, he referred to Ron Roskens, Martin Massengale, and Nancy Hoke, president, chancellor, and chairperson of the board of regents of the university, respectively; Secretary of Energy James D. Watkins; Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan, Jr.; and Secretary of Agriculture Clayton Yeutter. Prior to his remarks, the President toured university facilities. Following his remarks, he returned to Washington, DC.

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