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Obama Calls for Energy Independence and Lower Oil Imports

U.S. President Barack Obama has set out an ambitious goal of cutting U.S. reliance on foreign oil by one-third by the year 2025.

In a speech in Washington focused on energy independence, and to a lesser extent, global warming concerns, Obama said political leaders had promised for decades to make the country energy independent but failed to take the hard steps required to make it happen.

He called that goal something the United States "can achieve."

"The only way for America's energy supply to be truly secure is by permanently reducing our dependence on oil," he said. "We're going to have to find ways to boost our efficiency so that we use less oil. We've got to discover and produce cleaner, renewable sources of energy with less of the carbon pollution that threatens our climate."

Obama’s proposed dramatic reduction in oil imports will take some ammunition away from critics who charge that the White House’s foreign policy in the Arab world and Middle East is driven by its interest in the region’s oil supplies.

Popular revolutions across the Arab world, which supplies much of the U.S. oil, has reduced global supplies and driven the price of gasoline up across the country. The average price of a gallon of gas is now $3.85, more than a dollar higher than one year ago.

In his speech, Obama took on critics within the Republican Party who blame his energy policies for rising gas prices. As evidence, they point to a slowdown in approvals for new permits for offshore oil wells after last summer’s massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and an accompanying moratorium on new deep-water oil exploration.

But the president said the White House had actually approved 39 shallow-water drilling permits since new standards were put in place last year and seven new deep-water drilling permits in recent weeks.

"Any claim that my administration is responsible for gas prices because we've -- quote, unquote -- 'shut down' oil production, any claim like that is simply untrue," he said. “It might make for a useful political sound bite, but it doesn't track with reality. What is true is we've said if you're going to drill offshore, you've got to have a plan to make sure that we don't have the kind of catastrophe that we had last year."

Biofuels And Nuclear Energy

A centerpiece of Obama’s plan to break the country’s addiction to foreign oil is increasing domestic production levels. To that end, he pledged to come up with new incentives for companies to speed up oil and gas production already under way or approved to begin.

A new report from the U.S. Interior Department says more than two-thirds of offshore leases in the Gulf of Mexico are sitting idle -- neither producing oil and gas nor being actively explored by the companies who hold the leases.

The department said those leases could potentially hold more than 11 billion barrels of oil and almost 1.5 trillion cubic meters of natural gas.

Obama also proposed a variety of not new, but also not fully realized, measures to wean Americans off their reliance on oil, saying the country has to “discover and produce cleaner, renewable sources of energy...quickly."

His proposals include producing more cars that run on electricity, improving the fuel efficiency of gasoline-powered vehicles, and increasing the production and use of biofuels.

That last item -- advanced biofuels – are fuels made from nonfood sources such as wood chips, plants, or plant waste, and they are still in the early stages of development. In recent years, Congress has increased its funding for research on these alternative fuels, but mass production could be years away.

Nuclear power is also part of Obama’s plan to increase U.S. energy security, and the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan that triggered the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant has not dissuaded him.

He said because nuclear power didn’t emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it could play a key role in slowing the advance of climate change.

"We've got to recognize that nuclear power -- if it's safe -- can make a significant contribution to the climate-change question. And I'm determined to ensure that it's safe," he said. "So in light of what's happened in Japan, I've requested a comprehensive safety review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to make sure that all of our existing nuclear energy facilities are safe."

On April 1, Obama plans to visit a package delivery company outside Washington to talk about how commercial trucks and buses can make the switch to higher fuel efficiency and natural gas-powered engines.

By. Heather Maher

Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.




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