Facing Mideast unrest, Obama to call for cut of oil imports by a third

President Obama will lay out a broad energy plan Wednesday aimed at cutting the country’s foreign oil imports by one-third over the next decade.

The plan comes amid increasing pressure to address high gas prices and concern about the country’s reliance on Middle Eastern and North African oil, particularly given the political unrest in the region.

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Obama’s speech will mark a “transition in public communications” from foreign policy issues like Libya to energy security, according to a senior White House official.

“You will see a concerted focus on energy from us over the next period,” the official said.

In his speech at Georgetown University, Obama will outline a four-point plan for reducing the country’s reliance on foreign oil. The president will call for domestic oil-and-gas development, incentives for natural-gas vehicles and biofuels and an increase in vehicle efficiency, the official said.

A key part of the plan is a proposal to provide incentives to industry to develop unused oil and natural-gas leases on public lands both onshore and off-, the official said.

In recent weeks, the plan, dubbed “use it or lose it,” has become a Democratic counterpoint to Republican calls to open up new land for oil-and-gas drilling.

An Interior Department report released Tuesday says that oil companies have failed to develop millions of acres of off- and onshore public land under lease. Obama ordered the study earlier this month.

But, in their latest attack on the administration’s offshore drilling policies, Republicans and the oil industry have blasted “use it or lose it” proposals as a distraction from GOP plans to dramatically expand oil and gas drilling.

“We won’t reduce our dependence on foreign oil if politicians in Washington remain dependent on hollow talking points like ‘use it or lose it,’ ” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement earlier this month.


House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) released three energy bills Tuesday aimed at speeding up Gulf of Mexico oil drilling and leasing and opening other coastal areas to development. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is expected to unveil similar legislation Thursday.

But the Obama administration insists that expanded domestic oil-and-gas drilling is a key component of the country’s energy policy. It says it is working diligently to issue permits for Gulf of Mexico drilling under enhanced safety standards put in place in the aftermath of last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The Interior Department has issued roughly half a dozen deepwater permits for the type of projects that were halted after the oil spill, as well as more than three dozen shallow-water permits.

Obama will also call for incentives for the use of natural gas in cars and trucks, a proposal that mirrors a plan touted by former oilman T. Boone Pickens.

The president will outline a goal of breaking ground on four commercial-scale cellulosic or advanced biofuels plants in the next two years. And he will call for increases in vehicle fuel efficiency, the White House official said.

Obama will also tout a proposal he outlined during his State of the Union address to get 80 percent of the country’s electricity from low-carbon sources like wind, solar, natural gas and nuclear by 2035.