In a way I was lucky during the 1973 oil crisis, I was still in the U.S. Army and stationed overseas in the country of Germany that saw a much greater embargo of oil from the Middle East than did America. I say I was lucky because we did not have gas lines over there and during the height of it all the German Government banned driving on Sunday, save taxi cabs and emergency vehicles. We in the Military who stood weekend duty had to seek a driving pass to be prominently displayed inside of the car to be out driving and even then, we could only drive to and from our duty. I never had to sit in a gas line until I returned to America in March 1974 and then only a few times as the crisis eased shortly after my return.
I am struck that ever since that time, nearly 40 years ago, we continue to hear much of the same rhetoric coming from politicians of both parties and still, very little, if anything has actually changed. We still hear the calls of conserve, we are running out of oil, make cars more efficient, drill our own, don’t drill our own, we need to get off of foreign oil, whatever, much of the same rhetoric from 1973 is still heard in 2011.
Republican President Richard Nixon, in office at the outset of the oil crisis went before the nation early on November 25, 1973 outlining a series of steps called for to minimize the impact, both to the economy and to our personal lives to weather the crisis. He also announced the appointment of an “Energy Emergency Action Group to analyze the situation on a continuing basis and to advise him of all actions required to deal with it.”
In his January 30, 1974 State of the Union address, Nixon claimed,
“We will break the back of the energy crisis; we will lay the foundation for our future capacity to meet America's energy needs from America's own resources.”
He went on to address playing a role in the disengagement between the forces of Egypt and Israel, the root cause of Middle Eastern nations curtailing much of the oil they sold to Western nations and that leaders in the Middle East were meeting to “discuss the lifting of the oil embargo,” thereby returning to shipping the much needed oil for our energy needs.
As we know, Nixon resigned in August 1974 and the reigns were turned over to Gerald Ford who was appointed to replace him. President Ford, also a Republican, said in his January 15, 1975 State of the Union address,
“We depend on others for essential energy. Some people question their Government's ability to make hard decisions and stick with them; they expect Washington politics as usual.”
He also said,
“I am proposing a program which will begin to restore our country's surplus capacity in total energy. In this way, we will be able to assure ourselves reliable and adequate energy and help foster a new world energy stability for other major consuming nations,”laying out 3 steps of,
“First, we must reduce oil imports by 1 million barrels per day by the end of this year and by 2 million barrels per day by the end of 1977. Second, we must end vulnerability to economic disruption by foreign suppliers by 1985. Third, we must develop our energy technology and resources so that the United States has the ability to supply a significant share of the energy needs of the free world by the end of this century.”
Addressing his policy on energy, on May 27, 1975 President Ford said,
“Last January 15, I went before your Senators and Representatives in Congress with a comprehensive plan to make our country independent of foreign sources of energy by 1985.”
Addressing his efforts and missteps of both parties in congress, President Ford said,
“We are today worse off than we were in January. Domestic oil production is going down, down, down. Natural gas production is starting to dwindle. And many areas face severe shortages next winter. Coal production is still at the levels of the 1940's. Foreign oil suppliers are considering another price increase. I could go on and on, but you know the facts. This country needs to regain its independence from foreign sources of energy, and the sooner the better.”
Stating a point many in the country and government have yet to realize, he also said,
“When I talk about energy, I am talking about jobs. Our American economy runs on energy—no energy, no jobs. In the long run, it is just that simple.”
In the January 19, 1976 State of the Union address, President Ford said,
“My proposals, as all of you know, would reduce domestic natural gas shortages; allow production from Federal petroleum reserves; stimulate effective conservation, including revitalization of our railroads and the expansion of our urban transportation systems; develop more and cleaner energy from our vast coal resources; expedite clean and safe nuclear power production; create a new national energy independence authority to stimulate vital energy investment; and accelerate development of technology to capture energy from the Sun and the Earth for this and future generations.”
The 1976 campaign against Democrat challenger Jimmy Carter saw barbs thrown back and forth on energy independence. In the debate held September 23, 1976, challenger Carter charged,
“Our country now has no comprehensive energy program or policy. We have 20 different agencies in the Federal Government responsible for the production, the regulation, the information about energy, the conservation energy spread all over Government. This is a gross waste of money.”
He also charged,
“we need to have a realization that we've got about 35 years worth of oil left in the whole world. We are going to run out of oil. When Mr. Nixon made his famous speech on operation independence, we were importing about 35 percent of our oil. Now we've increased that amount 25 percent. We now import about 44 percent of our oil.” He added, “We need a shift from oil to coal. We need to concentrate our research and development effort on coal burning and extraction that's safe for miners, that also is clean burning. We need to shift very strongly toward solar energy and have strict conservation measures and then, as a last resort only, continue to use atomic power,”and calling for “mandatory conservation measures.”
President Ford responded,
“Governor Carter skims over a very serious and a very broad subject. In January of 1975, I submitted to the Congress and to the American people the first comprehensive energy program recommended by any President. It called for an increase in the production of energy in the United States. It called for conservation measures so that we would save the energy that we have. If you are going to increase domestic oil and gas production--and we have to--you have to give to those producers an opportunity to develop their land or their wells.”
He also replied,
“we have to expand our research and development. In my program for energy independence, we have increased, for example, solar energy research from about $84 million a year to about $120 million a year. We are going as fast as the experts say we should. In nuclear power we have increased the research and development under the Energy Research and Development Agency [Administration] very substantially to ensure that our nuclear power plants are safer, that they are more efficient, and that we have adequate safeguards. I think you have to have greater oil and gas production, more coal production, more nuclear production, and in addition, you have to have energy conservation.”
The October 6, 1976 debate and the October 22, 1976 debates saw pretty much the same back and forth.
In November, Jimmy Carter won the election.
Part Two, Part Three, Part Four