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Cut oil imports by one-third: Did Obama set the right goal for the US?

Cutting oil imports by one-third by 2025 might be less ambitious than it sounds. A better goal, some experts say, might be to more strongly encourage alternative fuels to make oil less important overall.

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Ms. Korin argues Obama should have framed his energy agenda around the concept of choice in vehicle fuels – enabling consumers to benefit from direct competition between gasoline and other fuels.

In the short run, that could mean calling on carmakers to make most of their vehicles capable of running on biofuels or methanol as well as gasoline. This idea is already embraced by some members of both parties in Congress. Backers of an "Open Fuel Standard Act" include Sens. Sam Brownback (R) of Kansas and Maria Cantwell (D) of Washington.

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In the longer run, electric and hybrid vehicles could play a growing role in breaking oil's near-monopoly.

To some extent, there's overlap between Obama's energy blueprint and that of critics like Korin. Obama talked a lot about transforming America's transportation sector, hitting on everything from biofuels to electric vehicles and from mass transit to the potential for natural gas to power cars.

But the overlap comes partly because Obama touched on so many ideas in his speech. Obama's plan for reducing imports includes more US-based oil production, higher automotive fuel efficiency, and developing new power sources.

Also, Obama repeated his recent calls for doubling the share of electricity generated by "clean" sources, to 80 percent by 2035. Those sources would include renewables and nuclear as well as clean coal. (Oil is only a bit player in supplying electricity, but these changes could allow utilities to power more cars on electricity without pumping as much carbon into the atmosphere.)

Reaching the goal of a one-third cut in imports depends on many marketplace factors that are hard to predict. As the world has seen in the past few years, oil prices and consumption can swing dramatically based on conditions like recession and unrest in North Africa.

"But when you look at the long-term trends, there are going to be more ups in gas prices than downs in gas prices," Obama said, noting the rising demand from emerging markets like China.

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