American energy (image by: KB35)

As oil prices continue to spike with the unrest in the Middle East, consumer anger has inevitably increased along with it – and so has the political rhetoric.

Though it was intended to create calm, Obama’s speech outlining his “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future” on Wednesday at Georgetown University added more anger, from both environmental and business leaders alike. Environmental groups are upset that Obama supports nuclear energy, even after the Japan nuclear disaster, as well as offshore drilling, oil from Canada’s tar sands, and gas from domestic shale reserves. They are also upset that he did not address Republican attempts to “rein in” greenhouse gas rules by the Environmental Protection Agency. Business leaders, on the other hand, accuse Obama of cutting domestic production short and increasing costs.

Despite the heated debate, however, much of what Obama said in his announcement of his national goal to cut oil imports by one-third by 2025 was an affirmation of earlier statements, such as his ongoing support for renewable energy sources and investments in clean energy technology. More ominously, it also included a reference to the now discarded cap-and-trade bill.

While Obama’s support for nuclear energy and for offshore and domestic drilling are also not new, they highlight the tradeoffs between nuclear safety and low emissions, and between drilling safety and domestic energy security. These tradeoffs point to the political difficulties Obama might have in achieving his plan. With the devastating impacts from the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, as well as those from the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, uppermost in the public’s mind, Americans are currently more likely to support nuclear safety over low emissions, and drilling safety over domestic energy security. Yet in his speech, Obama nodded toward these concerns with a mention of his request for a safety review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as well as of his implementation of strict new deepwater drilling regulations since the BP accident.

Obama’s commitment to the Canadian oil sands – seen by some as reliable, compared to Middle Eastern sources of oil – is also not new. Liz Barratt-Brown at the Natural Resources Defense Council pointed out that in this speech, he never agreed to increase oil sands production, despite Canadian media reports suggesting otherwise. Rather, he stated that imports from various countries would be a necessary part of the mix until alternative energies are fully in place.

Perhaps the reaffirmation of existing policies or platforms, rather than the introduction of new ones, is a good thing for the “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future.” Luke Tonachel of the NRDC argues that better cars, increased efficiency and alternative fuels can meet Obama’s goal of cutting one-third of imports by 2025 without new drilling, and the New York Times explains how tools such as biofuels and more fuel-efficient cars were used effectively to advance energy security 30 years ago – and can be used again.

In his announcement, Obama ackowledged that ongoing attempts to secure America’s energy future have been made by U.S. presidents since the first oil crisis in the 1970s, yet have so far remained unsuccessful. It remains to be seen, however, whether the policy trade-offs, political differences and opposition can be addressed well-enough to implement it this time around – with the stakes that much higher.

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