Obama misses the point on energy security

President Barack Obama should rethink his definition and strategy of energy security.

While Obama touted lofty goals about cutting our dependence on foreign oil in his address today, he missed the point.

Energy security is not just about reducing oil imports. It’s also about addressing how we get energy here at home. The crisis following last year’s BP oil spill showed us that domestic drilling is not a pathway for security. It shut down the Gulf economy for months, and the fishing industry may never rebound. Energy security starts and ends with curbing our oil addiction – period – not just cutting off oil imports.

While the president has it right when he says efficiency is critical to meeting this goal, he gets it wrong when he calls for more domestic oil drilling and corn ethanol. Obama must recognize that energy security means investing in renewable energy and moving away from fossil fuels and nuclear power. We also must invest in mass transit and the electrification of the transportation sector, powered by investments in onsite solar and wind energy.

These measures won’t end our addiction overnight, but committing to these investments today would move us toward an imported-oil-free future in 20 years.

So how do we pay for this renewable energy and energy efficiency revolution? We can start by ending fossil fuel and nuclear subsidies, which total billions of dollars annually, and by putting a price on carbon.

The ongoing Japanese nuclear crisis underscores that nuclear power is neither safe nor clean. Committing taxpayer resources to building new plants, or including nuclear as part of a national “clean energy” standard, places our energy security at risk.

Energy security must address not only vulnerabilities from our level of imports, but also the public health and environmental hazards of energy production. Preserving and strengthening Clean Air Act protections over our energy production is crucial to maintaining our energy security.

If we do all these things, we could have a country where homes have rooftop solar panels, buildings are more energy-efficient and the transportation sector is electrified.

Now that is energy security.

Tyson Slocum is director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program.