WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Wednesday called for a one-third cut in oil imports by 2020, part of a plan he says will reduce U.S. dependence on foreign petroleum.
With rising gasoline prices at home and political turmoil throughout the Middle East, Obama sought in a speech at Georgetown University to rally Americans — and bickering lawmakers — behind a program that draws equally from energy savings and increases in energy production.
"We've been down this road before," Obama said, acknowledging that past presidents have made similar calls for greater energy independence. But, he added, "we can't rush to action when gas prices are high and then hit the snooze button when prices are low again."
Most facets of his proposals are familiar. The president proposed wider use of natural gas, including incentives to use it to fuel fleet vehicles such as city buses. He backed greater production of biofuels and vowed to establish at least four commercial scale refineries producing cellulosic ethanol or advanced biofuels within the next two years. He also pledged to establish higher fuel efficiency standards for heavy trucks, just as he did for passenger vehicles early in his administration.
Obama also urged oil companies to make greater use of the federal leases both onshore and offshore to prop up domestic oil output. The oil industry and GOP lawmakers have been loudly complaining about delays in the permitting of offshore drilling in recent months. But an irked administration, which had pledged tougher scrutiny of drilling applications after last year's massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, fired back Tuesday with an Interior Department report that revived earlier debates about whether oil companies were exploiting the leases they already have.
"We just spent all that time, energy and money trying to clean up a big mess," Obama said. "I don't know about you, but I don't have amnesia. I remember these things. I think it's important that we prevent something like that from happening again."
He also embraced nuclear power as a critical part of America's energy future, despite increased safety concerns after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan that severely damaged a nuclear power plant there. He vowed a thorough safety review of all U.S. plants, incorporating lessons learned from Japan, but said nuclear power still holds enormous potential for the United States.
"We can't simply take it off the table," Obama said.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.