In what a senior aide has promised will be a “concerted” transition to a new energy initiative, President Obama Wednesday will declare that he wants to reduce America’s oil imports by a third in ten years.
The political context is obvious: The president has long sought to inoculate himself from criticism over rising gas prices. Last year Obama announced that he would allow oil and natural gas exploration in untouched areas of the outer continental shelf. Then the Deepwater Horizon rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico. Obama reversed his decision, closing off some areas he had been poised to open. And his Interior Department has since moved cautiously in permitting new drilling in the gulf. So now that gas prices are up, Republicans are mercilessly attacking the president. No doubt exactly what the White House thought it would avoid as it developed its original offshore drilling plan.
And the policy? High gas prices, of course, aren’t Obama’s fault — as if a few drilling leases would make a noticeable difference in the massive world oil market. But a focus on oil imports can lead to funny energy policy. Reducing carbon emissions — which directly addresses climate change, the great environmental threat of our time, and should also discourage oil consumption — is a lot more important than simply reducing foreign oil dependence — which has led policymakers to do things such as over-subsidizing corn ethanol, with dubious environmental benefits.
We’ll see how the president manages these priorities in his speech, but I’m hoping to hear a lot more about some of the promising policies for greening the electricity sector he proposed in his State of the Union Address.