The United States must aggressively seek out more efficient energy alternatives to end the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said Wednesday in a Gaston Hall speech.

Obama, who faulted the Bush administration for not making energy independence a higher priority, outlined several proposals that he said would significantly lessen American consumption of oil.

“The Achilles heel of the most powerful nation on earth is the oil we cannot live without,” Obama said.

One way to reduce oil consumption, Obama said, is to promote hybrid cars and flexible-fuel vehicles, which can alternate between gasoline and ethanol. Obama introduced a bill in the Senate last year that would increase the number of gas stations that can accommodate flex-fuel vehicles.

Obama also said that the United States should raise the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, which regulate the fuel efficiency of passenger cars, by 3 percent over the next 12 years. He noted that China has higher fuel efficiency standards than the United States.

Another bill that Obama introduced last year, which he dubbed the “Healthcare-for-Hybrids Act,” would provide incentives to the auto industry to invest in new technology. As an example, Obama said that the government could pick up the tab for parts of the companies’ health insurance programs. Obama said it was unlikely that his proposals would be adopted by the current Congress, where Democrats are in the minority in both chambers. He said the legislation would have a better chance if the party took back the House of Representatives in November’s elections.

Obama said that energy independence would require a “sustained national commitment.” He sharply criticized the Bush administration for failing to provide leadership on the issue, saying that President Bush did not go far enough in his 2006 State of the Union Address when he declared that “America is addicted to oil.”

“There are another 11 steps in the 12-step program,” Obama said.

The senator also said that Bush should have taken advantage of a surge of patriotism after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and asked the American people to make sacrifices for the good of the nation. “All that was asked of you at the time was that you shop. Well, we can do better than that,” he said.

Speaking to reporters after the event, Obama said that Democrats had not gone far enough themselves in asking the public to make sacrifices. “Our politics has been a little too small,” he said.

Obama was elected to his first term in the Senate in 2004, and quickly gained fame within his party earlier that year when he delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. The speech was sponsored by MoveOn.org, a pro-Democratic political action committee, and the Lecture Fund.

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