On Wednesday President Obama set a goal to cut oil imports by one-third in the next decade. It's a goal, he acknowledged, that echoes calls for energy independence from every president since Nixon. But it's time for the country to "finally get serious about a long-term [energy] policy," Obama said.
One of the first steps, he said, is to boost domestic oil and gas production -- in line with Republicans' "drill, baby, drill" refrain that's called recently for expansion of offshore drilling. The country will likely hear more from the administration about this, since a White House official told reporters on Tuesday that Obama's speech is the beginning of a new "concerted focus on energy."
Drastically reducing oil imports would be a historic turn, since imports have been on the rise in recent months -- and have risen sharply over the past 40 years, as domestic oil production has fallen since its peak in 1970. From more than a dozen countries scattered around the world, the U.S. imports about 9 million barrels per day -- about two-thirds of the oil it consumes, and about one-seventh of the oil produced outside its borders.
Andrew Revkin's Dot Earth blog has a full transcript of Obama's speech.
Blueprint for Innovation
The administration's 40-page "Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future" shares details of other proposed measures, including cars with better fuel efficiency, increased ethanol production, and more clean energy. It calls for boosts in efficiency -- but actual cuts in total energy use are hard to come by, a new U.S. Energy Information Administration report points out, as increasing numbers of gadgets have eclipsed efficiency gains.
The blueprint also calls for building a "smart grid," but California utility PG&E has had a rocky start with its roll-out of smart meters. Some customers have feared the meters' radio signals would harm their health, and now PG&E will disable the radio transmitters -- but those customers will have to pay for manual readings.
While Obama's energy blueprint calls for putting many well-established technologies into place, research continues on several cutting-edge energy-related technologies. Advances were announced last week on an "artificial leaf," which uses sunlight to split water, creating hydrogen fuel. Meanwhile, the U.S. and U.K. announced $10 million in new grants for research aimed at improving on natural leaves to boost food and biofuel production.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy is aiming to boost innovation with a new effort, "America's Next Top Energy Innovator," which will reduce costs and paperwork for start-ups to license patents.
U.S. states have continued to lead the way, with California's Assembly passing one of the world's most aggressive renewable energy standards, calling for a third of the state's electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020.
In general, though, the U.S. is lagging on clean energy funding, falling behind China and Germany, according to a Pew Charitable Trust report. The report pointed out global clean energy investment is on the rise, reaching $243 billion in 2010, a new record high. China has also begun using a voluntary carbon trading system called the "Panda Standard."
Germany's Nuclear Fallout
The fight to control nuclear power plants in Japan continued, and the country may have lost the race to save one reactor from a meltdown, the Guardian reported.
In the wake of Japan's disaster, Germany has been the country to change policies most drastically, with the Green Party toppling the conservative Christian Democrats in a major state election, and politicians calling to permanently shut half the country's nuclear plants. The European Union's energy commissioner said this nuclear backlash will mean more reliance on coal.
Juicing Up Cars
Meanwhile, with oil prices remaining high -- hovering well above $100 a barrel -- the members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are set to mark a milestone this year, said Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency, with oil exports bringing in more than a trillion dollars.
Despite high prices at the pump, sales of fuel-efficient cars have stalled, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. One complaint about electric cars has always been their limited range on a single charge, but Secretary of Energy Steven Chu forecast that in about five years electric cars will be able to go 300 miles on a charge.
Tesla Motors, manufacturer of an all-electric sports car, is taking U.K. auto show Top Gear to court over battery range. The car maker claimed the show's negative review was libelous, alleging the part when the car's battery ran out of juice and was pushed to a garage was faked.
The Climate Post is produced each Thursday by Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.
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