WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama set an ambitious goal Wednesday to cut U.S. oil imports by a third over 10 years, focusing on a source of anxiety for Americans as high gasoline prices threaten economic recovery.
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Obama outlined his strategy in a speech after spending days explaining U.S.-led military action in Libya, where fighting, accompanied by unrest elsewhere in the Arab world, has helped push U.S. gasoline prices toward $4 a gallon.
"There are no quick fixes. And we will keep on being a victim to shifts in the oil market until we get serious about a long-term policy for secure, affordable energy," Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery.
The Democratic president says the country, which relies on imported oil for roughly half of its daily needs, must increase its energy independence to improve national security.
But previous presidents have made similar promises on energy security and failed. And any new policy initiatives can expect tough opposition from Republicans who control the House of Representatives and see high energy prices as a vote-winner in the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
"Today, I'm setting a new goal: one that is reasonable, achievable, and necessary," Obama said. "When I was elected to this office, America imported 11 million barrels of oil a day. By a little more than a decade from now, we will have cut that by one-third."
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Republicans have mocked the idea of Obama curbing oil imports a week after visiting Brazil, where he said the United states wanted to be a good customer for its oil exports.
Obama laid out four areas to help reach his target of curbing U.S. dependence on foreign oil: lifting domestic energy production, encouraging the use of more natural gas in vehicles like city buses, making cars and trucks more efficient, and encouraging biofuels.
"We cannot keep going from shock to trance on the issue of energy security, rushing to propose action when gas prices rise, then hitting the snooze button when they fall again," he said.
Analysts and experts said Obama's goal is ambitious.
"All U.S. presidents since the early 1970s have outlined ambitious plans to reduce their reliance on imported oil," said John Sfakianakis, chief economist at the Banque Saudi Fransi.
Truly reforming U.S. energy use would involve sweeping changes, including possible fuel taxes to encourage Americans to change their habits, analysts said.
While polls show Americans have mixed feelings about getting entangled in a third Muslim country, with the United States still engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are clearly worried by high gas prices before the summer driving season.