During a speech to students at Georgetown University, President Obama said, "I want to announce a new goal, one that is reasonable, one that is achievable, and one that is necessary. 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. That is something that we can achieve."
Furnace Creek Chevron gas station in California's Death Valley has some of the highest gas prices in the nation. March 13, 2011 (Photo by MadeIn1953)
"My administration is releasing a Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future that outlines a comprehensive national energy policy, one that we've been pursuing since the day I took office," said Obama. "And cutting our oil dependence by a third is part of that plan."
"The only way for America's energy supply to be truly secure is by permanently reducing our dependence on oil. We're going to have to find ways to boost our efficiency so we use less oil. We've got to discover and produce cleaner, renewable sources of energy that also produce less carbon pollution, which is threatening our climate," said Obama. "And we've got to do it quickly."
Obama said meeting that goal depends first on finding and producing more oil at home; and second, reducing America's overall dependence on oil with cleaner alternative fuels and greater efficiency.
President Barack Obama at Georgetown University (Photo courtesy The White House)
"Even for those of you who are interested in seeing a reduction in our dependence on fossil fuels - and I know how passionate young people are about issues like climate change," he said, "the fact of the matter is, is that for quite some time, America is going to be still dependent on oil in making its economy work."
Last year, American oil production reached its highest level since 2003, Obama reiterated, adding that for the first time in more than a decade, the oil the United States imported accounted for less than half of the liquid fuel consumed.
Reminding the audience of the massive BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year - the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history - President Obama said his administration is encouraging more domestic oil and gas production but, at the same time, "what we learned from that disaster helped us put in place smarter standards of safety and responsibility."
"For example, if you're going to drill in deepwater, you've got to prove before you start drilling that you can actually contain an underwater spill," Obama said. "That's just common sense."
"And lately, we've been hearing folks saying, well, the Obama administration, they put restrictions on how oil companies operate offshore. Well, yes, because we just spent all that time, energy and money trying to clean up a big mess. And I don't know about you, but I don't have amnesia. I remember these things. (Laughter) And I think it was important for us to make sure that we prevent something like that from happening again."
Oil slick near BP's leaking Macondo oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, June 22, 2010 (Photo by Oscar Garcia, Florida State University)
"Today," said Obama, "we're working to expedite new drilling permits for companies that meet these higher standards." Since the new standards were put in place, said Obama, his administration has approved 39 new shallow-water permits. Seven deepwater permits have been approved in recent weeks.
"When it comes to drilling offshore, my administration approved more than two permits last year for every new well that the industry started to drill," Obama said. "So any claim that my administration is responsible for gas prices because we've 'shut down' oil production, any claim like that is simply untrue. It might make for a useful 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," said Obama. "And I don't think that there's anybody who should dispute that that's the right strategy to pursue."
Obama said the oil industry is holding "tens of millions of acres of leases" that are not being used. He was referring to a report from the Department of the Interior Tuesday showing that roughly 70 percent of offshore oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico and more than half of onshore leases on federal lands remain idle, neither producing nor under active exploration and development by companies who hold those leases.
Oil wells, Ventura California, February 2011 (Photo by John Riley)
Responding to Obama's speech, Charles Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, said Obama is "wrong to believe that the best way to achieve these goals is to impose costly mandates and taxpayer-funded subsidies to pick energy winners and losers."
"American taxpayers can't afford to be burdened with billions upon billions of dollars in taxes to subsidize ethanol, electric cars, and other energy ideas that can't survive in the free market," he said.
Drevna used the occasion to lash out at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is regulating greenhouse gas emissions this year for the first time.
"These endless subsidies only increase the economic pain Americans are suffering, as do the greenhouse gas regulations and similar mandates the Environmental Protection Agency is imposing on our economy that drive up energy costs without improving our environment," Drevna said.
"America is rich in energy resources, and President Obama and Congress should move to make more of them available to serve the American people," Drevna said. "This means allowing more exploration and production of oil and natural gas within our nation and offshore. President Obama should also allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline that will enable us to get more oil to serve the American people from our good friend and neighbor Canada."
TransCanada Keystone Pipeline proposes to construct and operate a crude oil pipeline and related facilities to transport crude oil derived from western Canada's tar sands from Hardisty, Alberta to destinations in the south central United States, including a new tank farm in Oklahoma and delivery points in Texas.
Tar sands developments on the banks of the Athabasca River in Alberta, Canada (Photo by Co-op Financial Services)
Because this proposed project will cross into the United States from Canada, a Presidential Permit issued by the U.S. State Department is required for the project to proceed.
This subjects the Keystone XL project to the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires disclosure of potential environmental impacts, both beneficial and adverse, and the consideration of possible alternatives.
The State Department is now in the process of drafting a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. The landowners' letter asks that the SEIS "inform landowners of the real risks to our health, safety and livelihood."
Today, 100 landowners from Montana to Texas wrote a letter to the President and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton objecting to a proposal for a "massive tar sands pipeline slicing down America's heartland" that would increase reliance on what environmentalists call the dirtiest oil on the planet.
The crude oil extracted from tar sands is of such low quality it must be upgraded before it can even be pumped by pipeline to refineries.
The landowners' letter follows a letter to Clinton released last week by 25 mayors who expressed their concern that the proposed tar sands pipeline would undercut their ability to reduce demand for oil, move to cleaner fuels and combat climate change.
An association of local municipalities, ICLEI USA issued a statement today saying local governments are already moving toward the President's goal of cutting oil imports by one-third.
Cities and counties across the nation - from Philadelphia to Austin to Grand Rapids and Miami-Dade - are already implementing innovative ways of reducing energy consumption and maximizing clean energy innovation with great success. Ongoing efforts at the local level will help to strengthen the President's commitment to building a vibrant 21st century clean energy economy," said Mayor Patrick Hays, City of North Little Rock, Arkansas, who is ICLEI USA's corporate president and chair of its Board of Directors.
"The President's plan presents both an imperative and a challenge to reduce our energy consumption, create new jobs, and protect communities and our environment. This is an ambitious plan, but it is certainly achievable," said Martin Chavez, ICLEI USA executive director and former three-term mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico. "Local governments will have to play a major role in building a successful 21st century clean energy economy."
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