President Obama on Wednesday called for a one-third reduction in U.S. oil imports by 2025, reviving a long-elusive goal of reducing America's dependence on foreign supplies as political unrest rocks the Middle East and gasoline prices rise at home.
Tackling an issue that has vexed nearly every U.S. president since Richard Nixon, Obama said the country can't solve the problem with quick fixes and political gimmicks. But he offered little in the way of new initiatives, relying instead on a litany of energy proposals he's already called for, including boosting domestic oil production, increasing the use of biofuels and natural gas, and making vehicles more energy efficient.
Obama also embraced nuclear power as a critical part of America's energy future, despite increased safety concerns following 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 U.S.
"We can't simply take it off the table," Obama said during a nearly hourlong speech at Georgetown University.
Moving the United States away from its dependence on foreign oil and toward clean energy technologies was a key part of the domestic agenda Obama outlined in his January State of the Union address. That agenda has since been overshadowed by events around the world, from the uprisings in the Middle East and subsequent U.S. military intervention in Libya to the humanitarian and nuclear crisis in Japan.
But with gas prices on the rise as the president readies his re-election bid, the White House wants to regain its footing on domestic issues before public anger over the spike in energy costs take hold. Gas prices have jumped more than 50 cents a gallon this year, reaching a national average of $3.58 a gallon last week, according to AAA's daily survey.
Obama acknowledged that he's far from the first U.S. president who has set out to put the U.S. on a path toward energy independence. Nixon made the case for energy independence in 1973 after Arab oil producers cut off supplies in response to U.S. support of Israel in the Mideast war.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu, seeking to explain why Obama's push for energy independence would succeed where others had failed, said Obama's timeline is realistic given recent advances in the clean energy sector.
Obama also called for expanding the development of oil alternatives, including natural gas and advanced biofuels, which are fuels made from non-food sources such as wood chips, switch grass or plant waste. Advanced biofuels, however, are still in their infancy.