Offshore oil rigWe have a problem we can’t drill our way out of.Photo: arbyreedCross-posted from the Center for American Progress.

Unrest in Libya and Egypt is driving up oil prices, stirring concerns that gasoline could hit $5 a gallon by summer. Like a smoker’s persistent cough, it’s another warning to change our ways. America sends nearly $1 billion daily overseas to purchase oil [PDF], which is nearly half the trade deficit. Nearly 20 percent of our oil imports come from the Persian Gulf, where instability causes roller coaster prices.

“Drill, baby, drill” won’t get us out of this mess. We have only 2 percent of world oil reserves but use one-quarter of world oil production. Oil companies want more ocean drilling, yet it will take years to produce anything from the thousands of undeveloped Gulf of Mexico leases they already own. And nuclear plants are no solution because they are exorbitantly expensive and time consuming to build.

We must shrink oil use by increasing vehicle efficiency, using cleaner fuels, and investing in public transit.

The Obama administration has responded to the oil threat by requiring that fuel economy improve by one-third in cars built from 2012 to 2016. This would save a cumulative 1.8 billion barrels of oil and lower drivers’ gas bills by an average of $2,800 per vehicle.

The president plans to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. Eliminating $4 billion in Big Oil tax loopholes would provide customer rebates and help build vehicle recharging stations. Planned investments in high-speed rail and public transportation would also reduce oil use and create jobs. We should also power new trucks with plentiful domestic natural gas instead of diesel.

The president should sell 30 million barrels (4 percent of the total) from our full emergency oil reserve if Mideast instability drives gasoline to $4 per gallon. Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton sold reserve oil to lower prices and reduce the deficit.

The House Republicans’ budget would increase foreign oil dependency by slashing rail and public transportation. It would cut funds for research and domestic production of super efficient vehicles, while protecting Big Oil’s tax loopholes.

President Obama has us on the road to lower foreign oil use. This is the time to “invest and grow” and not “cut and run.” We must kick our oil habit before it’s too late.