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Obama vows cut in US oil imports by a third

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) March 30, 2011
President Barack Obama Wednesday told politicians to ditch slogans and gimmicks and join his drive to cut US oil imports by a third in a just over a decade, but hit a wall of Republican scorn.

Obama made a major speech laying out a blueprint for a secure American energy future, warning that events like Japan's tsunami tragedy and Middle East crises made it even more vital to shield the US economy from rising fuel costs.

But Republicans immediately accused Obama of taking an incoherent approach to energy, accusing him of blocking an expansion of domestic production, stalling on drilling leases and choking producers with new regulations.

"Today, I'm setting a new goal: one that is reasonable, achievable, and necessary," Obama said at a speech at Georgetown University meant to wrestle attention back to his domestic agenda after weeks of foreign crises.

"When I was elected to this office, America imported 11 million barrels of oil a day. By a little more than a decade from now, we will have cut that by one-third," Obama said.

The president has made similar pledges before, promising as far back as his 2008 campaign to cut US oil imports from volatile markets including Venezuela and the Middle East which currently account for nearly a third of US imports.

Obama referred to that campaign, when the price of gasoline emerged as a major issue, warning that the issue was consumed by "slogans and gimmicks" and "outraged politicians waving three-point-plans for two-dollar gas."

Such spats always faded, he said, and warned America could not "keep going from shock to trance" on energy and "hitting the snooze button" when prices fall.

"So here's the bottom line - there are no quick fixes. And we will keep on being a victim to shifts in the oil market until we get serious about a long-term policy for secure, affordable energy."

Obama offered few new proposals to wean the United States off foreign oil from volatile regions, laying out a familiar call for a balanced energy policy from carbon, renewable, wind, nuclear and biofuel sources.

His speech will likely mark a new explosion of political bile over gasoline prices and energy, which is likely to peak during this year's summer driving season in the United States and in next year's presidential race.

Obama said that under his watch, the federal government was leading by example

He noted the government had already doubled the number of alternative fuel vehicles in its fleet and announced that all federal cars would need to run on alternative, hybrid or electric power by 2015.

Obama also said he would press oil giants to do more to exploit leases already tendered by the government, saying the industry was sitting on tens of millions of acres on resources waiting to be tapped.

The oil industry however argues that much of these resources would entail punitive exploration and extraction costs that would make little economic sense and want more areas in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska to be opened for drilling.

Obama laid out a plan to tap new sources of energy, including natural gas, biofuels like ethanol, switchgrass, wood chips, and biomass and highlighted government efforts to cut energy consumption.

Republicans, however, derided his approach.

Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican, said Obama's policies did not match his rhetoric and said restrictions on offshore oil drilling in the Gulf following a massive oil spill disaster last year had led to higher prices.

"As we've frequently seen with this administration, what it says and what it does are often two very different things," he said accusing America of conducting a "war on American energy."

McConnell argued that high minded schemes to develop alternative energy for the future did little to help Americans struggling now with high gas prices.

"The guy who's trying to make ends meet wants to know what you're going to do for him today, not 24 years from now," he said.

"We need to look elsewhere for our energy. The problem is that Democrats don't want us to use the energy we have. It's enough to make you wonder whether anybody in the White House has driven by a gas station lately."

In the wake of the disaster at an earthquake-damaged nuclear plant in Japan, Obama said that atomic energy -- but only under strict safety safeguards remained an important part of a balanced US energy plan.

"America gets one-fifth of our electricity from nuclear energy. It has important potential for increasing our electricity without adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. But I'm determined to ensure that it's safe."

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