The twists and turns of the United States’ journey to energy independence

The United States has made progress, in fits and starts, in trying to become more energy independent. But much of that progress has not been sustained over the years.

That’s the view of Jay Hakes, an energy expert who is director of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and author of the book: “Energy Independence.”

Hakes spoke before Atlanta Rotary today when he provided an historical overview of how different administrations addressed energy issues and our dependence on foreign oil.

President Richard Nixon pushed for the 55 miles per hour speed limit as a way to save oil.

President Gerald Ford made energy a priority and was responsible for the nation passing its first energy policy.

President Jimmy Carter declared energy independence the moral equivalent of war and was able to pass his own legislation.

And President Ronald Reagan also pushed some energy legislation.

As a result of all these efforts, the United States was able to cut the import of foreign oil in half between 1977 and 1982; from 8.6 million barrels to 4.3 million barrels. In 1982, we were importing only 28 percent of the oil that we consumed, compared to 47 percent in 1977.

Emmissions from greenhouse gases went down by 9 percent in that same period.

Things have changed. Today, 60 percent of the oil we consume comes from other countries. We ship out about $1 billion a day to buy oil from some countries that are not always allies.

“We were complacent from the mid 1980s to 2006,” Hakes said.

There’s a new impetus now, Hakes said. The bipartisan goal is to significantly reduce carbon emmissions by 2050 as a way to reduce the impact on climate change.

“In my opinion, we need solar power, wind power, nuclear power and more energy efficiency,” Hakes said. “There’s no silver bullet.”

Hakes also said that as a politician, he is free to say that there should be an increase in gas taxes. Not only would that help stabilize prices, but it would keep pressure on conservation and more fuel efficient vehicles.

Asked about the role rail transportation could play in both metropolitan areas and between major cities, Hakes answered: “It’s hard for me to imagine the United States of 2050 meeting our carbon emmission goals without strong mass transit.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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