WASHINGTON (AP) – Former President Jimmy Carter left at home the cardigan sweater he wore during his fireside energy chats 32 years ago, but told a Senate hearing Tuesday the nation’s energy challenges haven’t changed much in that time and will test America’s resolve.

Former presidents rarely testify before congressional committees, but Carter took lawmakers through the struggles he faced as president trying to convince the public, members of Congress and entrenched and powerful interest groups of the economic and security threats of excessive dependence on foreign oil.

At the time the United States imported 46 percent of its oil. Today nearly 60 percent comes from sources outside the country.

In a famous “fireside chat” in 1977 Carter donned a camel-colored cardigan sweater and spoke of the need for Americans to use less energy, turn down their thermostats and support his efforts to develop alternative energy sources, including gasohol – a predecessor to today’s ethanol – and solar technology.

The sweater may have been more than a prop. He also directed the White House thermostat be lowered to 65 degrees in the daytime and 55 degrees at night.

Beginning his remarks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Carter on Tuesday quoted his words of 32 years ago when he called the struggle for greater energy independence “the moral equivalent of war”- one that “will test the character of the American people.”

Those words still apply, he suggested, adding that as in the 1970s, entrenched vested interests are ready to fight the energy changes that are needed. More than ever, he said, reduced reliance on oil, especially imports, poses national security as well as economic risks.

He said because of our need for oil, “we have to be very careful not to aggravate our major suppliers of oil.”

Carter argued that only the president can get the energy priority shifts that he believes are needed to keep opponents from killing the measure on a single issue.

“The president has got to say this is important for our nation,” said Carter. But he added he was “not preaching” to President Barack Obama. “He’s doing much better than I did” in taking the issue to the public.

AP-ES-05-12-09 1846EDT

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