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Obama Lays Out Ambitious Clean Energy Plan, Now We Need to Make It a Reality

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On Wednesday, President Obama laid out an ambitious plan for a clean energy future. That future will be built on advanced cars, energy efficiency, and renewable power, the president said. It will also protect our health from dangerous pollutants and put Americans to work building 21st century energy solutions.

There is no doubt that President Obama recognizes the value of shifting to clean energy and confronting climate change; he has repeatedly stated his support since taking office. Now we need to take it to the next level. We need the president and Congress to lead us into that cleaner future with bold policies and smart legislation.

We can start by addressing our oil addiction. The president understands that with only 2 percent of the world's oil reserves and 25 percent of global consumption, our nation cannot drill our way out of oil dependence. Instead, we must tap American ingenuity.

NRDC embraces the president's goal for reducing America's oil imports by one-third by 2025. The most powerful way to meet this goal is by building better vehicles, unleashing the potential of new, sustainable fuels, and creating more transportation choices.

In fact, with the right policies in place, we can exceed the president's target and reduce oil imports by more than 40 percent by 2025.

The clean car standards President Obama established in 2010 are a good start. Not only will they save typical drivers about $3,000 over the life of their vehicles, but they will also save 1.8 billion barrels of oil.

That's the equivalent of taking 140 million cars of the road for a year. But this is only the beginning of what American automakers can achieve. By raising car fuel efficiency average to 60 miles per gallon by 2025, we can save 2.8 million barrels of oil by 2030.

Producing these cars will produce jobs. In a 2010 study, NRDC and the UAW found that with the right policies in place supplying the United States with more efficient cars could create a net gain of up to 150,000 jobs in America by 2020.

In addition to cleaner cars, we need cleaner ways to generate energy. The president's target of producing 80 percent of our electricity through clean sources is well within reach.

Many states have already achieved impressive gains with their own clean energy targets--targets that have attracted private investment and generated jobs. California just passed a new law with strong bipartisan support that calls for meeting 33 percent of its electricity demand through renewables.

The nation can meet the president's proposed target through an increased combination of energy efficiency, renewable power, and better use of natural gas. Investment in truly clean options will yield enormous benefits. McKinsey & Company concluded that tapping America's efficiency potential alone will reduce our energy bill by $1.2 trillion by 2020 and create nearly 1 million jobs. The new standards for more efficient light bulbs--signed into law by President Bush in 2007--will save $10 billion a year.

The president discussed several more ways of gaining control of our energy security. Like all energy technologies, however, they must be used safely and responsibly.

Part of President Obama's plan for cutting oil imports entails increased drilling here at home. But the president was right to recall the BP oil disaster and to ensure that we are better able to prevent or, at worst, contain another catastrophic spill.

We need the right safeguards in place before drilling expands in America. The National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling issued recommendations for how to address the systemic failures that have plagued the oil industry and government oversight. The Obama administration has begun to put stronger rules in place; Congress, in contrast, has failed to do anything. It has the power to increase drilling safeguards, but it has not yet done so.

Drilling for natural gas must also be safer and cleaner, something the president acknowledged. Right now, we don't have the proper mechanisms in place. The drilling technique called fracking which could threaten water supplies, for instance, is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act and several other bedrock laws. This must change so that natural gas drilling does not endanger people's health or the environment.

Advanced biofuels can play also a role in reducing our oil dependence, but we need to promote truly clean fuel stocks. Congress must address the unfair subsidies that now waste taxpayers' money and distort the market in favor of corn ethanol over the next generation of advanced biofuels.

And even as we add new energy sources to the mix, we must not include dirty fuels like liquid coal or oils from tar sands and oil shale--especially when clean car technologies and advanced biofuels make them unnecessary. As to nuclear power, I have called on the president to establish an independent commission to ensure the adequacy of measures taken in response to Japan's nuclear crisis.

Overall, I welcome the president's plan for achieving energy security, but it will require strong leadership to make it a reality. Right now, Congress is considering a bill that would give a free pass to inefficient cars and dirty coal. The House budget bill, meanwhile, would cut investment in renewable fuels, a move that would make us more dependent on oil and stifle job creation.

President Obama is trying to move American forward. It is time for lawmakers to join in the effort to bring more jobs, cleaner air, greater energy security, and a more stable climate to our nation.

This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.

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