President Obama Can Keep His Promise To Cut Oil Use In Half

by David Friedman, via Union of Concerned Scientists

During his first term, President Obama made history by setting the first ever global warming emissions standards for both cars and trucks and putting our nation on a course to double new vehicle fuel economy by 2025, fulfilling his 2008 campaign promise to cut oil use 2.5 million barrels per day.

Now it is time for him to cement his legacy on oil by going where none of his predecessors have gone before — President Obama must commit the nation to a realistic path to cut our projected oil use in half over the next twenty years.

A Campaign Promise Kept

When first running for office, candidate Obama promised to cut U.S. oil consumption by 2.5 million barrels of oil per day, take 50 million cars-worth of pollution off the road, and save Americans more than $50 billion on gasoline.

Soon after taking office, the President set in motion steps to deliver on this promise. Following a key Supreme Court decision backing the Clean Air Act and the scientific finding that carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gases endanger our health and welfare, he directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to develop a harmonized set of fuel economy rules and the nation’s first greenhouse gas standards for cars and light trucks.

Over the course of two rulemakings and in partnership with California, those two agencies put in place standards that will nearly double the fuel economy of new cars and light trucks and cut their global warming emissions in half by 2025. On top of that, those same agencies set the world’s first greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards for new commercial trucks, from heavy-duty pickups to garbage trucks to big-rigs, covering 2014 to 2018.

Based on our analysis and that of others, Politifact is now rating Obama’s oil saving goal as a promise kept. By our calculations, the combination of the three standards will deliver oil savings reaching 2.6 million barrels per day by 2025. In that year alone, the combined standards will save consumers about $120 billion, even after paying for the improved vehicle technology, and will cut global warming emissions by the equivalent of taking over 70 million typical cars and light trucks off the road for a year. These savings will continue to grow, reaching more than 4 million barrels per day by 2035, with even more money in consumers’ pockets and emissions saved.

Commit to Half the Oil, Because We Can ½ It!

After an election season filled with cynicism about politicians and the role of government, it is really refreshing to look back and see that candidates can fulfill their promises and that our government can work very well in the interest of Americans.

It is in that light that we need to challenge the President to go even farther and set his sights even higher. The President can and should keep up the oil, emissions, and money savings momentum in his second term by committing the nation to cut our projected oil use in half over the next 20 years. My analysis for the UCS Half the Oil plan ( shows that we could achieve that goal through a combination of efficiency and innovative alternatives to burning oil to get around.

If the President expands on the kind of steps his administration has already taken, he could meet his 2.5 million barrels per day oil savings goal by about 2020, five years earlier. And if we keep up the pace, including medium and heavy-duty truck standards that double fuel economy; setting similar standards for planes, trains, and ships; and ramping up investments in electric cars, better biofuels, and more efficient ways to move people and goods and fuel our homes and industry, we could cut the use of oil and other petroleum products in the U.S. down to 10-11 million barrels per day in about 20 years.

Keeping a Promise to Our Children

On election night last November, President Obama made another promise. He committed to take bold action to reclaim our nation’s legacy as the “global leader in technology and discovery and innovation” and to ensure our children grow up unafraid of the “destructive power of a warming planet.”

Fulfilling this climate promise means dramatically cutting the use of oil and other petroleum products, the largest source of global warming emissions in the U.S. Reclaiming our nation’s technology and innovation legacy means becoming a global leader in the transportation technology that will dramatically cut oil use. And giving American’s real relief from the hundreds of billions of dollars we spend each year on oil and the recessions caused by oil price spikes means dramatically cutting oil use.

Or, to put it more simply, using less is the real oil solution.

Of course, let’s not kid ourselves. If the President works to fulfill this promise, he’s going to get a lot of push back. Oil companies and their allies are making a killing selling us oil in its many forms and they are going to fight hard to block the progress that would mean more money in our pockets and less in theirs.

See the Half the Oil Plan in Action

Using less oil is practical, achievable, and benefits us all. Yet one powerful group is intent on blocking progress. Who’s standing in the way? See for yourself.

David Friedman is Deputy Director of the Clean Vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. This piece was originally published at UCS and was reprinted with permission.

9 Responses to President Obama Can Keep His Promise To Cut Oil Use In Half

  1. Mark E says:

    Cutting the rate in half is great BUT……

    (A) If Oil X Economy = TOTAL-OIL,

    (B) Then 1/2Oil X NonstopEconomicGrowth > TOTAL-OIL

  2. Mark E’s equation is valid to some extent, at least for some transition time.

    You can’t take half the fuel out of the transport sector in 20 years without some significant costs. At the very least, you have to turn over the entire vehicle fleet. That sounds like a job-producer and an economy-stimulator, but it strands the remaining useful life of those assets and much of the equipment in the factories that produce them. There are many, many people who will not be able to afford that in a 20-year time frame.

    That’s why we need to build the agreement that will sustain us through a WW2-style sacrifice: hyper-conservation (people saved bacon grease for industrial processing in WW2), environmental savings bonds, volunteer effort, and yes, direct temporary government intervention in key sectors of the economy.

    In WW2, the government said to Ford, GM, and Chrysler, you used to build cars, but now you’re building military vehicle, tanks, and airplanes. Here, sign the contract.

    That is the toughest nut. No one, least of all myself, wants that. But how else to achieve the required timely reductions?

    Half the Oil is a great start. But I’m concerned it’s not enough. I notice that the plan calls for half of the projected use in 2035 (50%of 22 mmbbld), not half of today’s use (50% of 19 mmbbld). I hope that momentum can be accelerated. The ice cap won’t last that long.

  3. Dave Bradley says:

    A lot of this oil use reduction was achieved by a grotesque economic “Great Recession”/borderline depression. That will do demand destruction, for su..

    He’s a simple strategy – 50% x 50% = 25%. Cut the vehicle miles travelled in gasoline/diesel consuming cars by 50% and then double average car milage (to presentday European standards) which also means half of the fuel consumption needed to travelthe same vehicle-miles. At that point, we could probably supply the 2 to 2.25 million bbls/day of fuels with iofuels and fuels made by hydrogen reduction of CO2 captured from fermentation and biosyngas facilities.

    Sound like a plan?

  4. Mark E says:

    “….at least for some transition time” ??

    Perhaps you did not understand my point. Pretend we instantaneously cut oil in half, and that the economy (and oil use) continues to grow at just 1/2% annually. In 70 years we will be right back to the today’s total oil consumption, but we will still demand another 70 (and 700, and 7000) years of nonstop economic growth. So, after the next 70 years at 1/2% annual growth, total oil consummption will have soared to twice what we now use in a year, even though we are using it much more efficiently.

    Efficiency gains are GREAT.

    But a monetary system such as we have (capitalism) which depends on nonstop never ending growth is guaranteed to ERASE those gains (barring some other reason for collapse).

    My point is NOT about transition anything, it is about status quo everything. We are addicted to economic growth, and that addiction will collapse civilization…. whether thru climate change or something else. So GROWTH ADDICTION is the heart of the problem. Getting efficient is just slaying one single head of the multi headed beast.

    Global warming is several heads of the

    Never-ending economic growth addiction is the beast’s heart.

  5. Mark E says:

    If you free that from the spam filter, please turn off the italics after “twice”

  6. Joan Savage says:

    The UCS 1/2 plan recognizes that there would continue to be increased demand for energy.

    I hope all readers go look at the UCS graphics that break down which sectors can be turned around in the short run.

    This doesn’t even include the proposal advanced to pick off the 40% of greenhouse gas production from HFCs, ozone, methane and other non-CO2 emissions.

  7. Mark E says:

    Hopefully no one thinks I am *against* doing this…. just saying any reduction in will be erased if we keep using ANY amount of oil in a growth-addicted economy. So this plan – as great as it is – only buys us some time to deal with the heart of the problem. Which is not fossil fuel use.

  8. A.J. says:

    This is a reasonable impetus for helping foster economies of scale for improved technologies. But I will continue to withhold judgment until after the mid-course review. Ultimately where we progress from there will depend on how well the market supports sufficiently profitable sales of truly enhanced vehicles, likely in the absence of carbon pricing and the presence of continued fossil fuel subsidy. As well as reduced standards for the “light” truck/SUV segment.

  9. JDRY says:

    Companies should also be encouraged to have more of their employees to work from home to cut the amount of long, daily commutes. With today’s technology there are a lot of jobs that can be done without driving a single mile.