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Cut oil imports by one-third: Did Obama set the right goal for the US?

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To some policy analysts, the president missed an opportunity in framing his objectives around imports.

"It's the wrong goal," says Anne Korin, who leads Set America Free, an energy-policy coalition that includes business and environmental leaders. "The focus has to be on reducing the strategic importance of oil" in the economy.

She points to Britain, where truckers staged protests over fuel prices in 2008 even though the country isn't reliant on imports. The more fundamental dependence problem is that transportation – a vital sector of the economy – is dominated by fuels derived from oil.

Ms. Korin argues Obama should have framed his energy agenda around the concept of choice in vehicle fuels – enabling consumers to benefit from direct competition between gasoline and other fuels.

In the short run, that could mean calling on carmakers to make most of their vehicles capable of running on biofuels or methanol as well as gasoline. This idea is already embraced by some members of both parties in Congress. Backers of an "Open Fuel Standard Act" include Sens. Sam Brownback (R) of Kansas and Maria Cantwell (D) of Washington.

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