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Freedom from imported oil still elusive

Uhh, haven’t we heard all this before?

Wasn’t there something of a hollow echo in the president’s Oval Office speech about the Gulf oil spill being “the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now?”

Almost two years ago, then Senator Barack Obama noted: “We’ve heard promises about energy independence from every single U.S. president since Richard Nixon. We’ve heard talk about curbing our use of fossil fuels in nearly every State of the Union address since the oil embargo of 1973.”

Well, sorta.

Richard Nixon, president during the Arab oil embargo that created great outrage — and not a little fear — in a United States at the top of the world’s economic heap, enjoined the nation in his 1974 State of the Union speech: “Let this be our national goal: At the end of this decade, in the year 1980, the United States will not be dependent on any other country for the energy we need.”

Familiar though it sounded to JFK’s “Why I believe we should go to the moon” speech more than a decade earlier, Kennedy’s lunar goal was achieved, Nixon’s energy goal was not. Within two years, it was dead.

The embargo was lifted, oil started flowing again, and the resolve to wean the U.S. from imported energy was forgotten as we moved into the Age of the SUV, built McMansions with mega-tons of heating/AC, and created a credit-happy economy that would never end, hardy-har. Presidents Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, and Bush 2 made little or no mention of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. Carter, in 1980, cajoled us to turn our thermostats down and said 20 percent of U.S. energy should come from solar power by 2000 — which went over like a lead balloon.

So, here we are, almost four decades post-embargo, more dependent than ever on imported oil. We’ve researched everything from grass to goobers in a search for alternatives, but that nasty, black, gooey stuff fouling coastal beaches still is the key ingredient not only for our gazillion vehicles, but also for a large portion of the manufactured products we use every day.

Now, almost 70 percent of U.S. oil is imported, solar accounts for barely 1 percent, and alternative fuels are but a drop in the bucket. And in decrying imported oil, we often overlook that our No. 1 supplier is not the Saudis, but our good neighbor to the north, Canada (Saudi Arabia is second, Mexico third, Venezuela fourth, and Nigeria fifth).

The reality is, given the sorry state of the U.S. economy, a Congress and administration at constant loggerheads, thwarting any constructive accomplishment, and a transportation/manufacturing system entrenched in petroleum dependence, chances are we’ll be hearing future presidents still making pleas for energy independence.

The words are unfailingly noble and inspirational. The actions, alas, for decades have left much to be desired.

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TAGS: Management
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