Obama's Pragmatic Energy Plan: Oil, Natural Gas, Then Renewables

Obama's Pragmatic Energy Plan: Oil, Natural Gas, Then Renewables

President Obama yesterday gave a much-touted and much-discussed speech at Georgetown University yesterday about energy security in the United States and the move toward a low-carbon economy.

The speech (which you can read the prepared marks of here) comes at a time when political unrest in the Middle East and soaring demand are driving oil prices to levels not seen since 2007. And Obama's speech looks at the alternatives, in the most pragmatic light possible.

"So here’s the bottom line -- there are no quick fixes," Obama said. "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."

In the speech, Obama sets an ambitious goal, although one that's fuzzily defined:

"So today, I’m setting a new goal: one that is reasonable, achievable, and 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."

How the country will go about achieving this goal is not one that will likely leave environmentalists and clean energy groups entirely happy. Obama said that there will be two key elements of cutting oil use: "Finding and producing more oil at home, and reducing our dependence on oil with cleaner alternative fuels and greater efficiency."

Throughout the speech and in his proposals, Obama leans heavily on fossil fuels -- first with increasing offshore oil production and spurring the oil industry to begin oil production at onshore leases oil companies already hold, then with natural gas drilling as an alternative to oil.

Only about halfway into the speech does Obama present low-carbon solutions to the energy crisis. Biofuels will be critical to this effort, and the administration is working to help companies open in the next two years refineries capable of producing 80 million gallons of biofuels per year.

The president also focused on energy and fuel efficiency as critical elements to a successful clean-energy transition. From mandating cars that get much higher fuel efficiency rates to pushing forward on his ambitious Clean Energy Standard -- which sets a goal of 80 percent renewable energy in this country by 2035 -- Obama sees the low-carbon future as a more efficient one.

Although highly pragmatic, and perhaps disappointing to those who would prefer high-flying and ambitious goals, Obama has shown throughout his first two terms to be most successful when he's most pragmatic, as was the case last fall in the wake of the midterm elections.

For more detailed parsing of the President's energy speech, see Greenwire, this nifty annotated version of the text at Science Magazine, and a very negative review at Grist.

Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy