President Barack Obama pivoted to his comprehensive energy policy on Wednesday, calling for a one-third reduction in oil imports over the next decade.
During remarks at Georgetown University, the president said the U.S. must act now to find and produce more oil domestically, as well as lean on “clean energy sources” like nuclear power and clean coal technology. He also urged companies to make use of their existing leases for offshore drilling.
“In terms of new sources of energy, we have a few different options. The first is natural gas,” Obama said, noting that he has tasked Energy Secretary Steven Chu with improving the safety of extracting gas.
“I don’t know if you’ve heard, but he’s got a Nobel Prize for physics. He actually deserved his Nobel Prize,” Obama said, joking of the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded early in his presidency.
Obama announced plans to propose the first-ever fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty trucks this summer, followed by another round of fuel standards for cars in the fall. He said he is directing federal agencies to purchase 100 percent alternative fuel, hybrid or electric vehicles by 2015.
Obama also renewed his push for nuclear power but, in light of the ongoing nuclear disaster in Japan, said he has requested a comprehensive safety review of all existing nuclear plans.
“My administration is leading global discussions toward a new international framework in which all countries operate their nuclear plants without spreading dangerous nuclear materials,” he said.
Obama’s speech received a tepid response from Republicans, who complained that the president’s proposals don’t match up with his past actions on energy policy.
“Are we really supposed to believe that the same administration that declared a blanket moratorium on all offshore drilling off the Gulf Coast, which chased away rigs and jobs to other countries and which established new regulations that make getting a new drilling permit virtually impossible, now believes that energy companies aren’t drilling enough?” asked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
“This doesn’t even pass the laugh test,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said.
He said Obama’s call for cutting oil imports by one-third is only “wishful thinking” if it doesn’t include tapping into off-limits resources like oil shale throughout Utah — something he said the administration has been unwilling to do thus far.
“At every turn, they’ve blocked access to abundant energy reserves by denying energy leases on federally controlled lands,” he said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.