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Obama promotes climate-change bill in face of conflicting figures

He says a House measure, along with his auto-efficiency plan, would save as much as the U.S. imports from the Persian Gulf. Some government projections suggest that's an overstatement.

June 25, 2009|Paul West

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday defended his assertion that a climate-change measure making its way through Congress would greatly reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, even as government figures raised questions about whether he was overstating its effect.

Obama has intensified his lobbying effort ahead of an expected House vote Friday on a Democratic energy proposal designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sharply by 2050. The plan is one of the president's most ambitious legislative priorities, along with his push to overhaul the nation's healthcare system.

In a White House interview, Obama said that if the House proposal becomes law, "we are greatly reducing our dependence on foreign oil."

Estimates initially provided by the White House showed that the reduction in oil imports advertised by the president would amount to a cut of about 10% in 2030. Aides provided additional estimates Wednesday from an outside group that tripled the expected savings.

"All this stuff takes a while to ramp up," Obama said during a half-hour discussion in the Roosevelt Room. "Ten years out, it's not going to necessarily look as if the changes are massive. Twenty years out, suddenly you start really getting huge impacts. Thirty years out, you had a transformative difference in the economy. And that's how we've got to look at it."

Obama said that the combination of the House bill and his recent proposal to improve auto efficiency would save the U.S. "the equivalent of what we import from the entire Persian Gulf."

Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, said Wednesday that the House measure would reduce overall U.S. oil consumption by 700 million barrels in 2030. The White House later corrected that figure to 245 million barrels a year by 2030, citing a report by the Environmental Protection Agency.

That's less than one-third of the amount that the country now imports from the gulf. In 2008, the U.S. brought in 845 million barrels of crude oil from the gulf, according to the Energy Information Administration, an arm of the Energy Department.

In 2030, that figure would be about 584 million barrels, according to the information agency.

The Energy Information Administration has projected that total U.S. oil imports will drop over the next two decades, in part because of action taken during George W. Bush's administration to increase the production of ethanol and other biofuels. By 2030, oil imports will represent 40% of total U.S. consumption, down from 58% in 2007, according to an April report by the agency that took into account Obama's economic stimulus package but did not factor in either the energy legislation or his auto plan.

But the White House seized on a new preliminary assessment of the House legislation released Wednesday by an outside group, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, to buttress its claims.

The group, which analyzed portions of the House measure not calculated by the EPA, came up with just over 1 million barrels per day in reduced energy consumption in 2030. The additional energy savings would come from relatively minor portions of the legislation that would direct money to new investments in transportation planning and research on plug-in hybrids and other electric-powered vehicles.

Adding that figure to the EPA estimate, the White House came up with overall energy savings of nearly 2 million barrels a day, or more than the amount projected for Persian Gulf imports in 2030.

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paul.west@baltsun.com

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