The United States likely will not generate a large portion of its power from green energy any time soon, but the nation's abundant natural gas reserves could provide a new path toward achieving energy security, former President Jimmy Carter said in a wide-ranging interview Sunday on Platts Energy Week, the independent, all-energy television news and talk program airing Sundays in the United States.
In an interview from The Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta, Carter reflected on his energy legacy, which includes the creation of the Department of Energy in 1977, a strong push for energy conservation and renewable energy, as well as spiraling oil prices.
Although Carter once pledged the nation would generate 20% of its electricity from renewable power sources, such as solar and wind, he said at current rates "it'll be a long time," before the US reaches that goal. He blamed subsequent presidents for failing to continue the policies he set in motion.
"All of the presidents since then, Democratic and Republican, have basically been overly complacent," both about the nation's energy security and reliance on fossil fuels, Carter said.
But Carter said the recent discovery of massive natural gas reserves was a positive development, and one that would lessen the need for foreign energy imports.
"If you substitute for some of the dreams I had on solar energy the newly realized supply of natural gas then we can reach that goal in a different way," Carter said.
Asked about current energy policy, Carter gave President Barack Obama credit for pursing energy efficiency standards and new fuel-efficiency rules for cars. But he also said Obama was guilty of abandoning efforts to control emissions of greenhouse gases.
"I think under President Clinton we were making good progress toward being the leader in trying to bring about change following the [Kyoto] agreement and George H.W. Bush tried to do the same thing," Carter said. "But under President George W. Bush it was basically abandoned and there's no leadership being shown from Washington in trying to rejuvenate the commitment that was previously made."
Asked if Obama bore responsibility for that leadership void, Carter said: "The president, he's the spokesman for our country, so yes."
Carter also admitted that he would have made different decisions himself if he had been more aware of the dangers of climate change. He would have been less zealous, for example, about promoting US coal.
"If I had known I doubt I would have," Carter said. "It's only been since then, over the last 25 years or more, that it has been proven that the early indications were indeed an underestimation of the deleterious effect of human beings burning too much coal and other fuels to adversely impact the environment of the whole world."
Reflecting on the differences between the energy landscape in his presidency compared to today, Carter said the U.S. appears to be less vulnerable to the sort of oil supply shock that shook the nation in 1979. In addition to domestic supplies of natural gas and oil, neighbors such as Canada, Mexico and Venezuela offer huge oil resources, he said.
"I'm confident that the United States can weather any foreseeable threat to having an adequate supply of energy in the future," Carter said.
In the long term, Carter said, the US will inevitably move toward to a cleaner energy future, with less dependence on foreign imports.
"If the Americans don't get the message from ordinary intelligence and study and political leadership, they will have to get the message from crises that will arise in the future that threaten the well-being of our country," Carter said.
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