Every president since Richard Nixon has had a plan to end the country's dependence on foreign oil. With a secure energy supply of its own, the U.S. would be less affected by instability in the Middle East and elsewhere. It's an issue again in this year's campaign. In the series we call Solve This, we're looking at some of the challenges facing the nation, problems the next president will have to confront. NPR's Tom Gjelten reports on the Obama and Romney plans to boost America's energy security.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: The problem here is not in dispute. The United States depends too much on other countries for its energy supply. The new buzz word? Energy independence. Here's Mitt Romney.


GOVERNOR MITT ROMNEY: I will set a national goal of America and North America - North American energy independence by 2020. North American energy independence by 2020. That means we produce all the energy we use in North America.

GJELTEN: That from a speech in August. At the debate this week, achieving energy independence was number one on Governor Romney's to-do list. Actually this is now a realistic goal thanks to a recent jump in oil and gas production in the United States. President Obama says he, too, will push to further America's energy security, though without abandoning other goals like protecting the environment. But first, the Romney plan. He'd boost energy production even more, mainly by giving a hand to energy companies. Fewer environmental restrictions. A green light on pipeline projects, like Keystone, coming down from Canada. Plus more permits to drill for oil or gas on federal land. Romney's top energy advisor is oil executive Harold Hamm. At a house hearing last month, Hamm said his company, Continental, looks for oil these days mainly on private property, not federal.


HAROLD HAMM: Well, actually, it's been Continental's policy as much as possible to avoid federal land. You know, we're a growth company and we...

REPRESENTATIVE STEVE SCALISE: Due to the policies of the administration?

HAMM: Due to the policies and restrictions on federal lands. I mean we've seen permits take as much as two to three years.

GJELTEN: Hamm was prompted there was Louisiana Republican, Steve Scalise. The Romney team says the jump in U.S. energy production under President Obama has come almost entirely on private land, and has nothing to do with the administration's policies. Independent analysts say that is largely true. It's new technology and techniques, like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, that have made the energy bonanza possible. That doesn't mean government policy is irrelevant. Daniel Ahn of CitiGroup says that when a president signals that he'll accommodate more energy production, companies are more likely to invest in new ventures.

DANIEL AHN: I would posit that if, whoever is in the White House next year, leans toward a more supply friendly scenario, there'll be, of course, great interest and likely the markets will respond.

GJELTEN: The Obama administration welcomes all the new production, but its energy security plan takes another approach. Rather than focus entirely on producing more oil to meet the demand, President Obama would also reduce the demand to meet available supply. At a speech last March in Oklahoma, the president said more drilling alone won't make the U.S. energy secure.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Even if we drilled every little bit of this great country of ours, we'd still have to buy the rest of our needs from someplace else if we keep on using the same amount of energy. The same amount of oil.

GJELTEN: In fact, we're using less. And here energy analysts like Daniel Ahn of CitiGroup say Mr. Obama has a point. The progress in moving to energy self-sufficiency, Ahn says, has not come just from the boost in oil production.

AHN: A less heralded, but potentially even more important factor has been this decline in oil consumption in the U.S. That's also helping achieve quote "energy independence."

GJELTEN: One factor explaining this decline in oil consumption, is that our cars are now more fuel efficient. Thanks in part to fuel efficiency standards backed by the Obama administration. Governor Romney wants to relax those standards. The Obama plan would also reduce the demand for oil by boosting energy alternatives, like wind and solar. Some stark differences of emphasis, and behind those differences lay others, different tax and spending ideas, for example. Governor Romney would eliminate credits and other subsidies for the wind and solar industries. President Obama would continue them. The Obama plan, on the other hand, calls for eliminating tax breaks for the oil industry. Those the Romney would keep. So solving the problem of our dependence on foreign oil, but by very different routes. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.


BLOCK: This is NPR.

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