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Obama's Energy Talk: New Ideas, or Same Old Song and Dance?

80beatsBy Patrick MorganApril 1, 2011 3:11 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news What's the News: President Obama gave a major address outlining his plan for U.S. energy security yesterday. His major goal is quite ambitious: to cut American oil imports by one-third by 2025. And towards that goal, he listed a number of initiatives that many news organizations see as a rehashing of old ideas, however good they might be. According to The Economist, "it is hard to see his recycled list of proposals as anything more than a reassurance to the environmentally minded, and to Americans fretting about rising fuel prices, that the president feels their pain." How the Heck: Obama cited four major tactics for decreasing oil imports:

  • Increase domestic production of oil

  • Use more natural gas and biofuels

  • Spur wider use of electric cars

  • Increase the efficiency of gasoline-powered motor vehicles

What's the Context:

  • In his speech, Obama noted that "American oil production [has] reached its highest level since 2003." As the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler notes, domestic oil production is higher now mostly because companies are now harvesting oil from the shale of North Dakota and other states. "Meanwhile, the independent Energy Information Administration is forecasting that domestic crude oil production will decline this year and next," Kessler adds.

  • Using biofuels is nothing new: The government has been encouraging biofuel use via subsidies for decades.

  • Kessler points out that "the administration is largely betting that a bulk of the reduction would come from the aggressive fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles (known as “CAFE standards”) announced by Obama in 2009." These standards are projected to save us 1.8 billion oil barrels. So it appears that Obama's biggest step toward energy independence has already been taken.

  • Senator Jeff Bingaman recently made a talk arguing that the little-known Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (which increased the CAFE standards, among other things) has decreased the amount of oil we import by billions of barrels.

  • From ordering Detroit to build fuel-efficient cars to boosting green tech with his economic stimulus package to capping carbon emissions, better energy use has been one of Obama's goals since he came into office.

Not So Fast: With a Republican-control House of Representatives, the president's congressional approval for new measures, from his clean-energy standards to increased subsidies, are unlikely to see the light of day. As The Economist puts it, "The Republicans who control the House are dead set against anything that smacks of greenery, not to mention anything that would add to spending at a time when they are trying to take an axe to it. Every president since the first oil shock in the 70s has made generally similar noise about moving the U.S. to energy independence. Still hasn’t happened.

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