The President's Proposed Energy
speech by President Jimmy Carter,
April 18, 1977
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol.
XXXXIII, No. 14, May 1, 1977
Tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk
with you about a problem unprecedented in our history. With the
exception of preventing war, this is the greatest challenge our
country will face during our lifetimes. The energy crisis has
not yet overwhelmed us, but it will if we do not act quickly.
It is a problem we will not solve in the
next few years, and it is likely to get progressively worse through
the rest of this century.
We must not be selfish or timid if we
hope to have a decent world for our children and grandchildren.
We simply must balance our demand for
energy with our rapidly shrinking resources. By acting now, we
can control our future instead of letting the future control us.
Two days from now, I will present my energy
proposals to the Congress. Its members will be my partners and
they have already given me a great deal of valuable advice. Many
of these proposals will be unpopular. Some will cause you to put
up with inconveniences and to make sacrifices.
The most important thing about these proposals
is that the alternative may be a national catastrophe. Further
delay can affect our strength and our power as a nation.
Our decision about energy will test the
character of the American people and the ability of the President
and the Congress to govern. This difficult effort will be the
"moral equivalent of war" -- except that we will be
uniting our efforts to build and not destroy.
I know that some of you may doubt that
we face real energy shortages. The 1973 gasoline lines are gone,
and our homes are warm again. But our energy problem is worse
tonight than it was in 1973 or a few weeks ago in the dead of
winter. It is worse because more waste has occurred, and more
time has passed by without our planning for the future. And it
will get worse every day until we act.
The oil and natural gas we rely on for
75 percent of our energy are running out. In spite of increased
effort, domestic production has been dropping steadily at about
six percent a year. Imports have doubled in the last five years.
Our nation's independence of economic and political action is
becoming increasingly constrained. Unless profound changes are
made to lower oil consumption, we now believe that early in the
1980s the world will be demanding more oil that it can produce.
The world now uses about 60 million barrels
of oil a day and demand increases each year about 5 percent. This
means that just to stay even we need the production of a new Texas
every year, an Alaskan North Slope every nine months, or a new
Saudi Arabia every three years. Obviously, this cannot continue.
We must look back in history to understand
our energy problem. Twice in the last several hundred years there
has been a transition in the way people use energy.
The first was about 200 years ago, away
from wood -- which had provided about 90 percent of all fuel --
to coal, which was more efficient. This change became the basis
of the Industrial Revolution.
The second change took place in this century,
with the growing use of oil and natural gas. They were more convenient
and cheaper than coal, and the supply seemed to be almost without
limit. They made possible the age of automobile and airplane travel.
Nearly everyone who is alive today grew up during this age and
we have never known anything different.
Because we are now running out of gas
and oil, we must prepare quickly for a third change, to strict
conservation and to the use of coal and permanent renewable energy
sources, like solar power.
The world has not prepared for the future.
During the 1950s, people used twice as much oil as during the
1940s. During the 1960s, we used twice as much as during the 1950s.
And in each of those decades, more oil was consumed than in all
of mankind's previous history.
World consumption of oil is still going
up. If it were possible to keep it rising during the 1970s and
1980s by 5 percent a year as it has in the past, we could use
up all the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end
of the next decade.
I know that many of you have suspected
that some supplies of oil and gas are being withheld. You may
be right, but suspicions about oil companies cannot change the
fact that we are running out of petroleum.
All of us have heard about the large oil
fields on Alaska's North Slope. In a few years when the North
Slope is producing fully, its total output will be just about
equal to two years' increase in our nation's energy demand.
Each new inventory of world oil reserves
has been more disturbing than the last. World oil production can
probably keep going up for another six or eight years. But some
time in the 1980s it can't go up much more. Demand will overtake
production. We have no choice about that.
But we do have a choice about how we will
spend the next few years. Each American uses the energy equivalent
of 60 barrels of oil per person each year. Ours is the most wasteful
nation on earth. We waste more energy than we import. With about
the same standard of living, we use twice as much energy per person
as do other countries like Germany, Japan and Sweden.
One choice is to continue doing what we
have been doing before. We can drift along for a few more years.
Our consumption of oil would keep going
up every year. Our cars would continue to be too large and inefficient.
Three-quarters of them would continue to carry only one person
-- the driver -- while our public transportation system continues
to decline. We can delay insulating our houses, and they will
continue to lose about 50 percent of their heat in waste.
We can continue using scarce oil and natural
to generate electricity, and continue wasting two-thirds of their
fuel value in the process.
If we do not act, then by 1985 we will
be using 33 percent more energy than we do today.
We can't substantially increase our domestic
production, so we would need to import twice as much oil as we
do now. Supplies will be uncertain. The cost will keep going up.
Six years ago, we paid $3.7 billion for imported oil. Last year
we spent $37 billion -- nearly ten times as much -- and this year
we may spend over $45 billion.
Unless we act, we will spend more than
$550 billion for imported oil by 1985 -- more than $2,500 a year
for every man, woman, and child in America. Along with that money
we will continue losing American jobs and becoming increasingly
vulnerable to supply interruptions.
Now we have a choice. But if we wait,
we will live in fear of embargoes. We could endanger our freedom
as a sovereign nation to act in foreign affairs. Within ten years
we would not be able to import enough oil -- from any country,
at any acceptable price.
If we wait, and do not act, then our factories
will not be able to keep our people on the job with reduced supplies
of fuel. Too few of our utilities will have switched to coal,
our most abundant energy source.
We will not be ready to keep our transportation
system running with smaller, more efficient cars and a better
network of buses, trains and public transportation.
We will feel mounting pressure to plunder
the environment. We will have a crash program to build more nuclear
plants, strip-mine and burn more coal, and drill more offshore
wells than we will need if we begin to conserve now. Inflation
will soar, production will go down, people will lose their jobs.
Intense competition will build up among nations and among the
different regions within our own country.
If we fail to act soon, we will face an
economic, social and political crisis that will threaten our free
But we still have another choice. We can
begin to prepare right now. We can decide to act while there is
That is the concept of the energy policy
we will present on Wednesday. Our national energy plan is based
on ten fundamental principles.
The first principle is that we can have
an effective and comprehensive energy policy only if the government
takes responsibility for it and if the people understand the seriousness
of the challenge and are willing to make sacrifices.
The second principle is that healthy economic
growth must continue. Only by saving energy can we maintain our
standard of living and keep our people at work. An effective conservation
program will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
The third principle is that we must protect
the environment. Our energy problems have the same cause as our
environmental problems -- wasteful use of resources. Conservation
helps us solve both at once.
The fourth principle is that we must reduce
our vulnerability to potentially devastating embargoes. We can
protect ourselves from uncertain supplies by reducing our demand
for oil, making the most of our abundant resources such as coal,
and developing a strategic petroleum reserve.
The fifth principle is that we must be
fair. Our solutions must ask equal sacrifices from every region,
every class of people, every interest group. Industry will have
to do its part to conserve, just as the consumers will. The energy
producers deserve fair treatment, but we will not let the oil
The sixth principle, and the cornerstone
of our policy, is to reduce the demand through conservation. Our
emphasis on conservation is a clear difference between this plan
and others which merely encouraged crash production efforts. Conservation
is the quickest, cheapest, most practical source of energy. Conservation
is the only way we can buy a barrel of oil for a few dollars.
It costs about $13 to waste it.
The seventh principle is that prices should
generally reflect the true replacement costs of energy. We are
only cheating ourselves if we make energy artificially cheap and
use more than we can really afford.
The eighth principle is that government
policies must be predictable and certain. Both consumers and producers
need policies they can count on so they can plan ahead. This is
one reason I am working with the Congress to create a new Department
of Energy, to replace more than 50 different agencies that now
have some control over energy.
The ninth principle is that we must conserve
the fuels that are scarcest and make the most of those that are
more plentiful. We can't continue to use oil and gas for 75 percent
of our consumption when they make up seven percent of our domestic
reserves. We need to shift to plentiful coal while taking care
to protect the environment, and to apply stricter safety standards
to nuclear energy.
The tenth principle is that we must start
now to develop the new, unconventional sources of energy we will
rely on in the next century.
These ten principles have guided the development
of the policy I would describe to you and the Congress on Wednesday.
Our energy plan will also include a number
of specific goals, to measure our progress toward a stable energy
These are the goals we set for 1985:
--Reduce the annual growth rate in our
energy demand to less than two percent.
--Reduce gasoline consumption by ten percent
below its current level.
--Cut in half the portion of United States
oil which is imported, from a potential level of 16 million barrels
to six million barrels a day.
--Establish a strategic petroleum reserve
of one billion barrels, more than six months' supply.
--Increase our coal production by about
two thirds to more than 1 billion tons a year.
--Insulate 90 percent of American homes
and all new buildings.
--Use solar energy in more than two and
one-half million houses.
We will monitor our progress toward these
goals year by year. Our plan will call for stricter conservation
measures if we fall behind.
I cant tell you that these measures will
be easy, nor will they be popular. But I think most of you realize
that a policy which does not ask for changes or sacrifices would
not be an effective policy.
This plan is essential to protect our
jobs, our environment, our standard of living, and our future.
Whether this plan truly makes a difference
will be decided not here in Washington, but in every town and
every factory, in every home an don every highway and every farm.
I believe this can be a positive challenge.
There is something especially American in the kinds of changes
we have to make. We have been proud, through our history of being
We have been proud of our leadership in
the world. Now we have a chance again to give the world a positive
And we have been proud of our vision of
the future. We have always wanted to give our children and grandchildren
a world richer in possibilities than we've had. They are the ones
we must provide for now. They are the ones who will suffer most
if we don't act.
I've given you some of the principles
of the plan.
I am sure each of you will find something
you don't like about the specifics of our proposal. It will demand
that we make sacrifices and changes in our lives. To some degree,
the sacrifices will be painful -- but so is any meaningful sacrifice.
It will lead to some higher costs, and to some greater inconveniences
But the sacrifices will be gradual, realistic
and necessary. Above all, they will be fair. No one will gain
an unfair advantage through this plan. No one will be asked to
bear an unfair burden. We will monitor the accuracy of data from
the oil and natural gas companies, so that we will know their
true production, supplies, reserves, and profits.
The citizens who insist on driving large,
unnecessarily powerful cars must expect to pay more for that luxury.
We can be sure that all the special interest
groups in the country will attack the part of this plan that affects
them directly. They will say that sacrifice is fine, as long as
other people do it, but that their sacrifice is unreasonable,
or unfair, or harmful to the country. If they succeed, then the
burden on the ordinary citizen, who is not organized into an interest
group, would be crushing.
There should be only one test for this
program: whether it will help our country.
Other generation of Americans have faced
and mastered great challenges. I have faith that meeting this
challenge will make our own lives even richer. If you will join
me so that we can work together with patriotism and courage, we
will again prove that our great nation can lead the world into
an age of peace, independence and freedom.
Jimmy Carter delivered this televised
speech on April 18, 1977