EME 803
Applied Energy Policy

Project Independence

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Project Independence was an initiative launched by the Nixon Administration in response to the OPEC Oil Embargo and ensuing Oil Crisis in the fall of 1973. The stated goal of the project was simple, but ambitious, as described by President Nixon in the short 30 second video clip below: total US independence from foreign energy sources by 1980.

Click for a transcript of "Project Independence" video.

RICHARD NIXON: What I have called Project Independence 1980 is a series of plans and goals set to ensure that by the end of this decade, Americans will not have to rely on any source of energy beyond our own. As far as energy is concerned, this means we will hold our faith and our future in our hands alone.

Insert screeching tire sound here, right? Energy Independence by 1980??? For perspective, that's the year before I was born, and I'm now old enough to be teaching a course on energy policy that focuses fairly heavily on our reliance on foreign fossil fuels. So, clearly, this project didn't achieve its goal.

How did Project Independence intend to make the US self reliant for its energy needs?

  • expedite the licensing and construction timeline for nuclear power plants from 10 years to 6
  • request governors to reduce highway speed limits to 50 mph; encourage carpooling
  • decrease home heating oil supply by 15%; task occupants with lowering thermostats by at least 6 degrees (to between 66-68 F)
  • reduce federal government's own energy consumption (both from building climate control and fleet vehicles not traveling over 50 mph - except in emergencies)
  • decrease fuel allocation for air travel, leading to 10% cutback on the number of flights
  • convert oil-fired power plants to coal

As Nixon notes in this address, these actions are ones that can be implemented immediately and the energy savings realized quickly. What is perhaps most interesting about the tenets of this plan is how heavily it relies on the adjustment of private citizens' behaviors and preferences to meet the goals. And perhaps, this is in part why 30+ years later, we're not even close to being energy independent. By the end of the 1970s, appetite for nuclear power generation would begin to fade (the Three Mile Island incident occurred in March of 1979). The Oil Embargo hadn't lasted as long as feared, and, of course, President Nixon would face bigger challenges in his presidency.

But the rhetoric remains. Presidential candidates from all parties tout energy independence as an important goal; we still import about 40% of the oil we need. However, the origin of those imports is predominantly from the Western Hemisphere. Take a look at this EIA Energy in Brief page to learn more about petroleum import trends.

What do you think it will take to achieve US energy independence? Is it even a relevant goal?