Put yourself in President Carter's shoes. You've been inaugurated
President on January 20th, 1977, in the midst of an exceptionally cold
winter. Within days of taking the oath, the nation is faced with a
severe energy crunch -- thousands of factories and schools are forced
to close for lack of heating fuel, and supplies to residential
customers are threatened as well.
By February 2, 1977 -- less than two weeks after taking office --
Carter had signed the Emergency Natural Gas Act to help ease the
crunch. Two months later, in an address to Congress, he challenged
the nation to respond to the energy crisis as "the moral equivalent of
war". This was President Carter's "new reality".
I've listed below some of the key events that occured in in the years
before and during Carter's presidency related to energy policy. These
are taken from several sources:
The Facts on File service at:
If you have access to this service (perhaps through a local library)
you might want to look at the full stories yourself.
There is also a very detailed timeline of energy-related events
maintained by the Department of Energy at:
This is also worth looking over yourself.
Lastly, there is a collection of President Carter's principle speeches
Jimmy Carter's Acceptance Speech, January 15, 1976
Inaugural Address as President, January 20, 1977
State of the Union Address, January 19, 1978
State of the Union Address, January 25, 1979
Energy and National Goals: Address to the Nation, July 15, 1979
State of the Union Address, January 21, 1980
State of the Union Address, January 16, 1981
Jimmy Carter's Farewell Address, January 14, 1981
I've excerpted a few of these in the material below, but again, they
are worth looking at in their entirety (especially the Energy and
National Goals speech -- also known as the "Crisis of Confidence"
speech -- which, for better or for worse, is a hallmark of Carter's
Here are the major events regarding the "new realities" of the
nation's energy situation that President Carter tried to deal with:
[although prior to Carter's Presidency, the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973
was the nation's first wake-up call on the "energy crisis"]
Arab Oil Embargo Causes Widespread Disruption
In October 1973, shortly after the Yom Kippur War broke out, the Arab
oil-producing states of the Middle East banded together and announced
that they would cut off all oil exports to the U.S. in an effort to
pressure it into ending its military support for Israel. The embargo,
which lasted less than six months, caused fuel shortages across the
country and huge hikes in oil and gasoline prices, leading to
widespread economic and social disruption.
[The President addressed Congress in April 1977 on energy issues]
Carter Presents Comprehensive New Energy Policy; Warns Failure to Act
Could Lead to 'Catastrophe'
President Carter presented a comprehensive energy policy to Congress
April 20 with a somber warning that it would require "sacrifices" from
every economic sector.
The policy called for higher prices and taxes for petroleum products
and production. Conservation was the keynote. The goal was to switch
the nation from dependence on oil to renewed use of coal and,
eventually, to renewable energy sources, such as solar power.
...He said many of his proposals on energy policy "will be unpopular."
But, he warned in drastic terms, "the alternative may be a national
catastrophe. Further delay can affect our strength and our power as a
nation.... This difficult effort will be the 'moral equivalent of
war'--except that we will be uniting our efforts to build and not to
... "Ours is the most wasteful nation on earth," Carter said. "We
waste more energy than we import.... If we do not act, then by 1985 we
will be using 33% more energy than we use today."
Senate Votes Energy Department
The Senate May 18  voted, 74-10, to create a Cabinet-level
Department of Energy that would bring together federal energy
functions and programs currently divided among a number of departments
and independent agencies.
[Although not directly related to the early formation of Carter's
energy policies, the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant
certainly put some more nails in the coffin of the nuclear energy
industry, in terms of turning to nuclear power as a way of lessening
de;endence on fossil fuels]
Major Accident Occurs at Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant, Radiation
Released; Crisis Said to Be Easing
A series of breakdowns in the cooling system of the Three Mile Island
nuclear power plant's No. 2 reactor led to a major accident in the
early morning hours of March 28 .
[Carter's Crisis of Confidence speech defined his presidency in many
respects. I recommend reading it in full at the link below, but here
are some key excerpts]:
Carter: The Crisis of Confidence Speech to the Nation
July 15, 1979
...Energy will be the immediate test of our ability to unite this
Nation, and it can also be the standard around which we rally. On the
battlefield of energy we can win for our Nation a new confidence, and
we can seize control again of our common destiny.
In little more than two decades we've gone from a position of energy
independence to one in which almost half the oil we use comes from
foreign countries, at prices that are going through the roof. Our
excessive dependence on OPEC has already taken a tremendous toll on
our economy and our people. This is the direct cause of the long lines
which have made millions of you spend aggravating hours waiting for
gasoline. It's a cause of the increased inflation and unemployment
that we now face. This intolerable dependence on foreign oil threatens
our economic independence and the very security of our Nation. The
energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present
danger to our Nation. These are facts and we simply must face them.
What I have to say to you now about energy is simple and vitally
Point one: I am tonight setting a clear goal for the energy policy of
the United States. Beginning this moment, this Nation will never use
more foreign oil than we did in 1977 - never. From now on, every new
addition to our demand for energy will be met from our own production
and our own conservation. The generation - long growth in our
dependence on foreign oil will be stopped dead in its tracks right now
and then reversed as we move through the 1980's, for I am tonight
setting the further goal of cutting our dependence on foreign oil by
one-half by the end of the next decade - a saving of over 4 1/2
million barrels of imported oil per day.
Point two: To ensure that we meet these targets, I will use my
Presidential authority to set import quotas. I'm announcing tonight
that for 1979 and 1980,1 will forbid the entry into this country of
one drop of foreign oil more than these goals allow. These quotas will
ensure a reduction in imports even below the ambitious levels we set
at the recent Tokyo summit.
Point three: To give us energy security, I am asking for the most
massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our Nation's
history to develop America's own alternative sources of fuel-from
coal, from oil shale, from plant products for gasohol, from
unconventional gas, from the Sun.
I propose the creation of an energy security corporation to lead this
effort to replace 2 1/2 million barrels of imported oil per day by
1990. The corporation I will issue up to $5 billion in energy bonds,
and I especially want them to be in small denominations so that
average Americans can invest directly in America's energy security.
Just as a similar synthetic rubber corporation helped us win World War
II, so will we mobilize American determination and ability to win the
energy war. Moreover, I will soon submit legislation to Congress
calling for the creation of this Nation's first solar bank, which will
help us achieve the crucial goal of 20 percent of our energy coming
from solar power by the year 2000.
These efforts will cost money, a lot of money, and that is why
Congress must enact the windfall profits tax without delay. It will be
money well spent. Unlike the billions of dollars that we ship to
foreign countries to pay for foreign oil, these funds will be paid by
Americans to Americans. These funds will go to fight, not to increase,
inflation and unemployment.
Point four: I'm asking Congress to mandate, to require as a matter of
law, that our Nation's utility companies cut their massive use of oil
by 50 percent within the next decade and switch to other fuels,
especially coal, our most abundant energy source.
Point five: To make absolutely certain that nothing stands in the way
of achieving these goals, I will urge Congress to create an energy
mobilization board which, like the War Production Board in World War
II, will have the responsibility and authority to cut through the red
tape, the delays, and the endless roadblocks to completing key energy
We will protect our environment. But when this Nation critically needs
a refinery or a pipeline, we will build it.
Point six: I'm proposing a bold conservation program to involve every
State, county, and city and every average American in our energy
battle. This effort will permit you to build conservation into your
homes and your lives at a cost you can afford.
I ask Congress to give me authority for mandatory conservation and for
standby gasoline rationing. To further conserve energy, I'm proposing
tonight an extra $10 billion over the next decade to strengthen our
public transportation systems. And I'm asking you for your good and
for your Nation's security to take no unnecessary trips, to use
carpools or public transportation whenever you can, to park your car
one extra day per week, to obey the speed limit, and to set your
thermostats to save fuel. Every act of energy conservation like this
is more than just common sense - I tell you it is an act of
[In Carter's Farewell Address, he points to three themes -- nuclear
arms, energy, and human rights -- as critical to humanity's well being
in the decades to come. Here is the excerpt on energy, in which he
mentions "acknowledging these realities is the first step in dealing
President Jimmy Carter's Farewell Address
January 14, 1981
Nuclear weapons are an expression of one side of our human character.
But there is another side. The same rocket technology that delivers
nuclear warheads has also taken us peacefully into space. From that
perspective, we see our Earth as it really is -- a small and fragile
and beautiful blue globe, the only home we have. We see no barriers of
race or religion or country. We see the essential unity of our species
and our planet; and with faith and common sense, that bright vision
will ultimately prevail.
Another major challenge, therefore, is to protect the quality of this
world within which we live. The shadows that fail across the future
are cast not only by the kinds of weapons we have built, but by the
kind of world we will either nourish or neglect.
There are real and growing dangers to our simple and most precious
possessions: the air we breathe; the water we drink; and the land
which sustain us. The rapid depletion of irreplaceable minerals, the
erosion of topsoil, the destruction of beauty, the blight of
pollution, the demands of increasing billions of people, all combine
to create problems which are easy to observe and predict but difficult
to resolve. If we do not act, the world of the year 2000 will be much
less able to sustain life than it is now.
But there is no reason for despair. Acknowledging the physical
realities of our planet does not mean a dismal future of endless
sacrifice. In fact, acknowledging these realities is the first step in
dealing with them. We can meet the resource problems of the world --
water, food, minerals, farmlands, forests, overpopulation, pollution
-- if we tackle them with courage and foresight.
I hope this gives you the information you were looking for on the "new
realities" faced by an unpopular President in a troubling time of the
If anything here requires further elaboration, just let me know
through a Request for Clarification, and I'll be happy to assist you
in any way I can.