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

By Patrick Morgan | March 31, 2011 6:11 pm

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.

  • http://discovermagazine.com Iain

    So take a look at any picture of any city on any planet we can photograph and the lights are on in the skyscapers, yet there’s nobody there. Maybe pass a law to turn out them lights except when people are on floor and save billions!

  • Gary Bart

    United States has more than +150 years worth of almost unlimited supplies of Natural Gas.

    One strike of the pen & executive order: “All future Federal vehicle purchases will be Natural Gas/Multi-Fuel vehicles.

    This will employ 100’s of thousands, reduce emissions, and help in reducing global warming, and dependence on foreign oil. Vehicles burn cleaner on NG, and last 3-4 times longer.

    Out West in Sacramento, CA most all Pacific Gas & Electric vehicles are natural gas powered, all city and county busses and garbage trucks are natural gas powered, UPS, FED EX, and some other Counties, Cities Use Natural Gas powered vehicles, buses, and utility vehicles. Some Power Plants run on Natural Gas, and SMUD Sacramento Municipal Utility Distric [Electric Service] have solar charged electric vehicles and some natural gas vehicles.

    Get off of foreign oil imports, Utilize what we already have. Proven, cleaner less polluting, Natural Gas, Hydro, Nuclear, Bio, & Supplemental Wind, and Solar clean energy.

  • DanM

    Obama spoke at UPS today. UPS has a natural gas fleet of trucks, but Obama did not mention this once! He just wants to talk electric and electric/hybrids. Why? I just saw the CEO of UPS on CNBC and *he* mentioned their success with nat gas trucks. Why does BHO continue to barely mention it?

  • Paul

    The renewed emphasis on natural gas for vehicles is refreshing. Now if only they’d also put some weight behind methanol. How about requiring new gasoline vebicles to also be able to be fueled with M85, and perhaps other alcohol-based blends?

  • Prof. Clyde DeVore

    Dear President Obama:

    Power cost 12 cents per kwh though it can be made for 3 cents per kwh. and $4.00 a gallon gasoline when it can be made in America for less than $2.00 a gallon. America contains more fossil energy than any Country of the world and at present consumption, it may surprise you that we will not run out of fossil energy for over 1000 years, that is if your vision lacks over one thousand years. Look toward Alberta, Canada. If they can do it we can do it. But why do you sound so uninformed even stupid. By the way, there is no such thing as CO2 pollution. Its a figment of your imagination. Bill Clinton stated it best, “one that makes policy without knowing the facts is basically an ideologue.” Better said he is just a plane fool.

    As president you are supposed to lead toward a better future for Americans.
    However it is clear that you cannot.
    Therefore please you, Salazar, Steven Chu, and leaders of EPA get out of the way so that knowledgeable Americans can do what you cannot, solve the energy problem.

    Professor Clyde DeVore


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