"In the last third of this century," the president said, "our independence will depend on maintaining and achieving self-sufficiency in energy."
That was President Richard Nixon in 1973, calling for the United States to kick its addiction to foreign oil by the end of the 20th century. As Miller-McCune noted last year ("Business as Usual: Hooked on Foreign Oil"), nearly every U.S. president since Nixon has tried and failed to turn a reluctant nation away from its dependence on oil imports.
In 1979, President Jimmy Carter declared, "The generation-long growth in our dependence on foreign oil will be stopped dead in its tracks right now and then reversed as we move through the 1980s. ..."
In fact, U.S. oil imports rose for another generation until 2005, when they peaked at 61 percent of the country's oil consumption. In 2009, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the country imported 9.7 million barrels of oil per day, or 51 percent of total demand. The U.S. is the world's largest oil consumer but produces slightly less than half of what it consumes.
So, this week, when President Barack Obama called for cutting U.S. oil imports by one-third by 2025, he had to acknowledge "the political gridlock and inertia that's held us back for decades," even as "we've known about the dangers of our oil dependence."
"Presidents and politicians of every stripe have promised energy independence, but that promise has so far gone unmet," Obama said at Georgetown University. "... I don't want to leave this challenge for future presidents."
Half of U.S. oil imports come from the Western Hemisphere, mainly Canada and Venezuela, and about 17 percent come from the chaotic Persian Gulf region — from Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In a preview of its forthcoming Annual Energy Outlook to 2035, the federal Energy Information Administration estimates that the price of crude oil in 2035 will be $125 per barrel (using 2009 dollars as a constant). The current price of oil is $106 per barrel. Absent any new policies aimed at reducing imports or consumption, the U.S. will still be importing about 40 percent of its oil in 2035, the forecast said. The full report will be released on April 26.
In his speech, Obama talked about a "clean energy standard," his goal for getting 80 percent of the nation's electricity from clean sources by 2035. He promised to help strengthen incentives for biofuels, improve the fuel-efficiency of heavy trucks, boost the production of American batteries for electric cars, and seek "historic investments" in high-speed rail and mass transit so that America could "win the future."
"... the only way for America's energy supply to be truly secure is by permanently reducing our dependence on oil," Obama said. "We have to find ways to boost our efficiency so that we use less oil. We have to discover and produce cleaner, renewable sources of energy with less of the carbon pollution that threatens our climate. And we have to do it quickly."
But does the country have the will to do it?
"I have seen the strength of America in the inexhaustible resources of our people," the president said. "In the days to come, let us renew that strength in the struggle for an energy secure nation."
(That was Carter, again, in 1979.)