Carter's oil crisis warning went unheard

President Jimmy Carter delivers his "Crisis of Confidence" speech on July 15, 1979.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: At his press conference today the president once again called for Congress to lift its ban on offshore oil drilling. He said even though it would take years to pay off, drilling would still put the U.S. on the right track toward reducing dependence on foreign oil. And he said there are no short-term solutions.

President George Bush: The president doesn't have a magic wand. You can't just say low gas. It took us a while to get here and we need to have a good strategy to get out of it.

Ryssdal: Twenty-nine years ago today Jimmy Carter made a speech and told us he thought had a pretty good strategy. It didn't go anywhere. But we asked our sustainability reporter Sam Eaton what things would be like today if it had.


Sam Eaton: The energy crisis of President Carter's tenure may have been rooted in a different set of causes. But the solutions he proposed his 1979 "crisis of confidence" speech could just as easily have been directed at today's set of challenges.

Tape of President Jimmy Carter: The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our nation. These are facts and we simply must face them.

Dan Kammen: History has born Carter to be dead on.

Dan Kammen is an energy policy expert at U.C. Berkeley. He says the image of President Carter wearing a cardigan sweater to stay warm may not have been very presidential, but his ideas were. In that same speech Carter proposed a cap on foreign oil imports and an ambitious conservation plan that included a 48-mile-per-gallon fuel efficiency standard for cars.

Kammen: If that amount of savings was going on, United States would have no need to import a drop of oil from the Middle East.

Jerry Taylor: Foreign oil is what keeps prices down.

Jerry Taylor with the conservative CATO institute says Carter's moratorium on foreign oil imports would have devastated the U.S. economy if Congress had approved it. He says the solution to today's energy crunch is to let the market work. Just look at how U.S. automakers are already ramping up production of fuel-efficient compacts.

Taylor: All that's happening without a George Bush speech in a cardigan sweater from the White House. It's happening because prices are high and people react.

But unlike the energy crises of the late 1970, few are predicting that this one will go away. And if that's the case, Berkeley's Dan Kammen says the U.S, may need that cardigan sweater after all.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

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