Sparked by unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, high oil prices are back after a short reprieve in 2009 and 2010. At well over $100 per barrel, there is concern about the repercussions for an economic recovery that was just beginning to gather strength. And long-standing anxieties about our dependence on a far-off region that seems perennially unstable and conflict-prone have re-emerged. Against this backdrop, no one was surprised to see President Obama announce a reinvigorated national effort to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
After all, we’ve been here before—most recently in 2008 and before that in 1973, 1980, 1990 and 2007. Then as now high oil prices and fears about oil supply adequacy prompted calls for reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil. In fact, nearly every administration for the last 50 years has come up with a new energy plan. And still our nation’s overall oil consumption—and with it the amount of oil we import—have continued to rise.
It’s time to step back and ask why: Why do we keep having this problem and—perhaps more importantly—why do all of the things we say we’re going to do about it never seem to prevent it from happening again?