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Obama's Energy Plan: Embrace Everything, Except for Americans Using Less

President Obama called for the U.S. to reduce foreign oil imports by one-third in the next decade -- following a long line of presidents who have made similar pledges to end our addiction to crude. To achieve this lofty goal Obama would basically throw everything at the problem.

Nuclear? Check. Biofuels? Natural gas? Offshore drilling? Wait. Safe offshore drilling? Check, check and check. Clean energy? Of course. Light rail? Yup.

In fact, the only solution he doesn't mention is a call for Americans to change their energy guzzling habits. Tackling our demand problem in the United States is the best -- and difficult -- solution to weaning ourselves off the foreign teat. It's also political suicide, which is why presidents rarely call for that kind of personal sacrifice from Americans.

Obama's speech did have some substance, however and provided a few hints at what's to come later this year. Here's what to expect in the next 12 months.

A tug-of-war over offshore drilling
The Interior Department will issue more permits for offshore drilling and administration will talk a lot about encouraging more production. There will be plenty of political theater as well, primarily a focus on unused oil and gas leases.

The White House has already ramped up the rhetoric with a new "use or lose it" report that showed 70 percent of offshore leases acres are inactive and has proposed shortening lease times to encourage development. The argument is highly political and not entirely accurate either. Companies lease areas of land all the time, only to discover after seismic studies and like, that the prospect of finding commercially viable amounts of fossil fuels is dim.

A push for natural gas is an endorsement for fracking

Obama has expanded the definition of clean energy to include natural gas. While he may have called for "responsible development practices for natural gas," what the industry heard was a resounding endorsement for the fuel source. Even T. Boone Pickens, billionaire and natural gas advocate extraordinaire, is encouraged by the president's speech.

Expect the debate over the environmental and health concerns surrounding hydraulic fracturing, a technique used to capture hard-to-reach natural gas, to heat up in 2011.

Committed to nuclear
The nuclear disaster in Japan has only slightly derailed Obama's nuclear energy plans. Lucky for him, many Republicans also support a nuclear energy revival. Yes, there will be increased safety measures and guidelines, but that will only slow the push for nuclear ever so slightly.

More support for ethanol

Obama has tried to steer clear of the corn ethanol debate by couching his pro-ethanol policy firmly in the cellulosic (meaning non-food) category. His goal is to break ground on four commercial-scale cellulosic or advanced bio-refineries in the next two years.

The crux here is the jump to "advanced" biofuels. So far, government incentives have failed to get commercially viable cellulosic ethanol up and running in any meaningful way.

Energy efficiency
Finally a solution that gets to the root of the problem. Our problem here in the U.S. is two-fold. We don't have the supply and we demand too much. Energy efficiency, whether it's stricter fuel economy standards or incentives to retrofit homes, tackles the demand part.

Photo from the White House

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