Jimmy Carter photo

Energy Conservation in Transportation Remarks at a White House Briefing.

April 29, 1980

I'd like to thank all of you personally, first of all, for coming to this event this afternoon. I know that you're deeply interested in the energy security of our Nation, and I know that there are many other important issues which are of great concern to you as leaders in your own community and in your own professions.

The disappointing events in Iran have been of great concern to our Nation, and I know they must encompass a large part of your consciousness and your thoughts during these troubling days. As President and Commander in Chief, I have been very proud lately of the strength of our Nation, the unity of our country, the commitment of our people, the heroism of our warriors who offered their lives for the concept of freedom and for the freedom of our American hostages.

This evening I have a press conference, and I'll discuss these and other issues of importance to our country at that time. But I would like to say that I am absolutely sure that I made the right choice in sending the rescue mission into Iran, and the men who went have expressed their personal thanks to me for giving them this opportunity to serve their country.

This afternoon, because of the importance of our subject, I want to move directly into it. It concerns you and every human being who lives in this country. And we must not forget that the recent events in Afghanistan and Iran and the Middle East, our relationship with our allies around the world, economic problems which are faced by our Nation and others, are all directly related to the subject which we will discuss this afternoon.

There is no single action that I can think of that all Americans can take that would be any more beneficial than to come to the conclusion that energy is a precious and a scarce and an expensive necessity of life. To put it bluntly, we must not let America be held hostage to foreign oil. We must conserve it, eliminate waste in every possible way we can.

Our country is at one end of a 12,000-mile supply line, and half the oil that we use is on the other end of that supply line. Energy security is a vital link, also, between national military security on the one hand, and economic security at home. Our dependence on imported oil this year will cost us $90 billion. That's more than $400 for every man, woman, and child in this country, and it's more than the net income of all the Fortune 500 combined. Oil imports are the greatest single factor in the high inflation which afflicts our country. Oil imports hurt our balance of trade, it hurts our productivity, it hurts our unemployment rate, it hurts the value of our dollar.

For the last 3 years, as you know, I've been fighting without letup, working with the Congress and with many of you, to evolve for our country a comprehensive national energy policy, which we have never had. We've almost reached that goal.

There's a clear legal basis now for the deregulation of our major energy sources over a phased, careful, proper interval. We've got the windfall profits tax now signed into law and implemented. The Energy Security Corporation and the Energy Mobilization Board legislation is well on the way to conclusion by the conference committees, and I hope that within the very near future—just a matter of weeks—we will have concluded this very difficult, very onerous, very divisive task which the Congress has assumed for itself.

America will at last have the means to increase production in this country of oil, natural gas, coal, of solar power, and other alternative energy sources, and to have a major emphasis on conservation. It's a comprehensive program; it has to be, because it's such a massive problem. We have clarified issues which have never been adequately debated before. We have a much clearer concept now of the problem and of the possible solutions to that problem.

Our Nation is highly educated compared to what it was 2 years ago or 3 years ago concerning the problems relating to energy and the special blessings which our country has in our energy reserves. But we will never reach our goals of energy security without a nationwide determination to use energy more efficiently. For 3 years, I have been advocating repeatedly that the best energy that we can describe or encompass is that which we save, which we do not waste. It's the quickest, cheapest, cleanest way to increase the reserves of energy which we actually need to consume. And we're at last seeing some good results.

As you know, in our country in the past, in most countries still, there has been a rapid escalation from one year to another in the amount of total energy consumed, particularly oil. Last year we saw a 5-percent reduction—this year compared to last year—in oil consumed. But perils abroad and the high prices at home still make it clear to all Americans, including, I know, all of you assembled here, that we must do more.

I believe that if we can launch successfully a clear, dedicated, persistent effort that will involve literally millions of Americans, that we can finally achieve the purpose that we've endorsed. We can accomplish a 25-percent reduction in energy used for transportation, for heating and cooling buildings, and for industry.

On March the 14th, I directed the Secretary of Energy to develop an intensified national energy conservation program which would involve every level of government, business, labor, private citizens-in fact, every citizen—in conserving America's energy. At the same time, I set a goal of reducing our average daily gasoline consumption by 400,000 barrels per day in 1980 alone. That's an annual savings of about $6 billion.

The first of these efforts, developed with the cooperation of Secretary Goldschmidt, Department of Transportation, concentrates on transportation, and followup programs will extend to family residences, buildings of all kinds, and to farms. Buildings will be primarily relating to HUD, under Secretary Landrieu, and farm conservation will be primarily the responsibility of Secretary Bergland.

Commerce Secretary Klutznick is working closely with this group to encourage broad participation by businesses in their operations and within their buildings themselves. We're trying to make this effort available to all parts of the Nation, with a series of regional meetings and training programs which will educate the public.

Transportation is our first priority not by accident, but because gasoline accounts for approximately 50 percent of all the oil that we use in this country. Less driving and better driving are simply commonsense ways to save money and to help our own country.

The initial conservation approaches are designed for ridesharing and for driving efficiency. This, again, is a challenging and a complicated subject. By ridesharing I don't mean just carpools and vanpools, but subscription buses and public transit and also the absence of the use of any motorized vehicle. This morning, for instance, more than 52 million Americans drove to work alone. That's 156 million empty seats going to places of employment every day. If just half these commuters had doubled up, the country could have saved 14.7 million barrels of gasoline this day. That's 375,000 barrels of oil.

Last fall, I appointed a national task force under Secretary Goldschmidt to develop ridesharing programs for the public and private sectors. Mayor Tom Bradley is the chairman. Governor Grasso, Thornton Bradshaw, and other members of the task force have been working on this program effectively and with a great deal of determination.

Some organizations have already instituted payroll deductions to make it more convenient for their employees to commute by public transit. Some have developed extensive carpools and vanpool programs. They can do more, .and others can certainly join this effort.

Here are some of the other important efforts that we are encouraging: driver training; trip planning; improved vehicle mileage, operation, and maintenance; and compliance with speed limits. It's estimated that a well-tuned, well-driven, fuel-efficient car with properly inflated tires can use up to 20 percent less gasoline.

It also makes good sense to save money by walking and by riding bicycles to nearby shopping centers or for short trips, especially if the employees and the stores provide proper facilities. Individual good sense and common good are one and the same thing.

Many of you here already have programs, I know, to encourage such savings, and I urge you to redouble your efforts. I also urge others to get started now.

As we enter our heaviest driving season of the year, I call on all members of the private and the public sectors to encourage ridesharing and transit use, promote better driver efficiency, and to inform the public, through various means of education and promotion and advertisement, of the methods and the advantages of conservation.

I'm specifically asking each one of you to commit to the specific goals that are set for your organization in the material that you've been given. Some of these goals are to establish a 20-percent participation by all employees in a business; if you already have a good program, to increase by 20 percent the number of employees who are participating. We call this the 20/20 program. It will promote fuel-efficient motoring by individual motorists and also by vehicle fleets.

I hope that you will conduct information programs to teach your own employees and teach the general public about how they can realize savings through better driving habits and to appoint an energy conservation manager in each company or firm or government entity in order to be specifically responsible for carrying out these goals. I ask that you respond by May 15 to the questionnaire that we have included in this material given to you, pledge forms, just saying that you will set an example, as leaders, in initiating this transportation conservation program. And I would like to have a complete report through Secretary Goldschmidt by Labor Day, and again at the end of this year.

Along with the transportation effort, we're also focusing on ways that the farmers can cut production costs and increase income through fuel-saving devices. Fuel now represents about 17 percent of the total expenditure on expenses of a farm. If, in 1980, farmers were able to just save 5 percent of their energy consumed through conservation practices, their net farm income would be increased $425 million, and 10 million barrels of oil could be saved.

We'll also launch very shortly another parallel effort on building weatherization. We've already been doing experiments under a Federal agency to take choice buildings, carefully selected, in specific communities around the Nation, to see which kinds of weatherization programs are the most effective per dollar in saving energy.

I know that business, again, labor, all citizens, can participate. To produce a high level of citizen participation and to publicize progress, I'm establishing a President's award program for energy efficiency. The first awards will be designed to recognize those who've done the best job in saving energy in transportation. A council for energy efficiency will represent all sectors of our society in encouraging efforts to achieve energy efficiency overall.

The most difficult, single job in the entire crucial effort in our country to save energy and to give us better national security is to convince every single American that he or she, as just one individual, can take action that will truly be significant. The cumulative effect of that is profound, but it's difficult to convince every person that their small part can be meaningful.

This is not an easy thing to do. I'm not asking anyone in this room to do anything that I will not attempt to accomplish under my responsibility in the Federal Government. Secretary Duncan and Administrator Freeman of GSA—they are the Federal Government's management arm—have assured me that the Federal Government will undertake the same accomplishments of goals that I'm asking you to take yourselves. But it's your cooperation that the Nation needs most. There is no way that the cumulative impact of the entire Federal Government, with all its programs, can come close to meeting the achievements that are possible in the private sector.

Well, in concluding, let me say that the 250 groups represented here today, as dedicated and competent leaders, trusted by your peers and by your subordinates-and by your employers, if the heads of your corporations are not here today—can pyramid into literally thousands of groups and represent literally millions of Americans.

For transportation in particular, our goal is to reach every single driver in the United States. And for our conservation effort in its general terms, including homes and agriculture and business, our goal is to reach every single citizen in this country.

The benefits to our country will be great. The consequences of failure will also be profound. I have never known in history our Nation to fail if it could identify a problem clearly and unite in the effort to solve that problem. My own assessment, after 3 years of intense effort, sometimes frustrating effort, is that the American people have finally been aroused to recognize the problem of limited energy resources. Interrupted supplies, uncertainty among foreign producers, and inevitable past, present, and future increases in the cost of energy are indeed powerful motivating forces.

As President, my time is valuable, as is yours, and I come here recognizing that this forum this afternoon is important enough for a President to spend his time preparing for it and working on it. And I hope you'll see the task that I've asked you to assume in the same light, not let your efforts be limited simply by carrying out very narrowly, in your own immediate circle of responsibility, the details of what is in even that material that you've had, but to let your own influence be exerted through meetings similar to this that you might call in your own community or in your own trade organizations to magnify as tremendously as possible your own beneficial impact on shaping the future of our country.

It is imperative that our country's security be guaranteed. It's imperative that our Nation's economic future be protected. And the key element in both those requirements is to make us less dependent upon uncertain supplies of foreign oil, and the effectiveness with which we are able to marshal a commitment of all Americans to stop wasting energy is the easiest, the simplest, the most effective but, at the same time, most challenging task before us.

We can join what's best for each person in saving money and having a better life, what's best for our Nation and its life in the future, by having a sound economy and a secure nation through energy conservation. You've got a partner in the Oval Office who has a high motivation to work with you, and I'm sure I can depend on each one of you, as qualified and dedicated and patriotic Americans, to do the best you can in this important, common endeavor. We cannot afford to let our Nation down, and I'm sure that you will not disappoint us.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:48 p.m. in the East Room at the White House to a group of business and labor leaders, State and local officials, and executives of trade associations.

Presentations by Secretary of Energy Duncan and Secretary of Transportation Goldschmidt and a panel discussion followed the President's remarks to the group.

Jimmy Carter, Energy Conservation in Transportation Remarks at a White House Briefing. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249830

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