Obama urges commitment to clean energy, end to oil industry tax credits

Source: John McArdle • E&E • Posted: Monday, March 5, 2012

With gasoline prices at historic winter highs, President Obama made his second major energy address in as many weeks today, decrying “phony election-year promises” about quick fixes and warning there is no “silver bullet” on energy issues.

And even as congressional Republicans this week accused the Obama administration of actively working to boost oil and gas prices in order to further its ideological agenda, Obama called on leaders on Capitol Hill to vote soon to find exactly where every member stands on a proposal to end $4 billion in tax credits for the oil and gas industry.

“I want them to vote on this in the next few weeks,” Obama said at New Hampshire’s Nashua Community College, where he toured an automotive lab. “Let’s put every single member of Congress on record: You can stand with the oil companies, or you can stand up for the American people. You can keep subsidizing a fossil fuel that’s been getting taxpayer dollars for a century, or you can place your bets on a clean-energy future.”

Obama also appeared to target critics in the Republican presidential field, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), who claims to have a plan to lower pump prices to $2.50 a gallon from the current national average, $3.74.

“The easiest thing in the world is to make phony election-year promises about lowering gas prices,” Obama said. “But what’s harder is to make a serious, sustained commitment to tackle a problem that we’ve been talking about for 30 years and has not been tackled, has not been solved.”

Gingrich tried to steal the spotlight from Obama by suggesting during a campaign stop in Georgia that the president use his speech today to announce the firing of Energy Secretary Steven Chu (see related story).

“President Obama must announce today in his Nashua address that he is firing Secretary Chu and replacing him with a pro-American-energy appointment,” Gingrich said in a statement released by his campaign. “If he doesn’t, then the American people will know the president is still committed to his radical ideology, which wants to artificially raise the cost of energy.”

The Gingrich campaign said in the release that the former House speaker was outraged by Chu’s testimony this week on Capitol Hill in which the secretary prioritized a decrease in U.S. dependence on oil over lowering gasoline prices.

It is not the first time Gingrich focused his attacks on Chu.

In a recent 30-minute video outlining his plans for domestic energy production — a plan that focuses exclusively on increased oil and gas drilling — Gingrich called Chu the “secretary of anti-energy.”

And last fall, when outrage hit a boiling point over the failed Solyndra solar energy company, which received more than half a billion dollars in DOE loans, Gingrich also called for Chu’s resignation.

As Republicans continue to try to make political hay over the Solyndra issue, Obama has used several recent speeches, including his State of the Union address, to declare his commitment to investing in clean energy technologies.

“Some of the clean energy technologies that are discovered, they won’t pan out,” Obama said. “Some companies will fail. There’s going to be experiments and research that take time. But as long as I’m president, I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy, because our future depends on it.”

Obama said his commitment to clean energy would continue “with or without this Congress.” And while he has called for an end to oil and gas subsidies, he has also pushed Congress to extend tax breaks for clean energy projects that he said are crucial to allowing the United States to compete globally.

API criticism

The president appeared in his speech today to slip back into his former role as a law professor.

Before the speech, Obama’s team had distributed charts to the audience that showed the percentage of U.S. consumption of foreign oil in recent years.

“You can see it in this chart,” Obama said during his address. “The bar on the left shows that six years ago, 60 percent of the oil we used was imported. Since I took office, America’s dependence on foreign oil has gone down every single year. … In fact, in 2010, it was under 50 percent for the first time in 13 years — for the first time.

“We gave one of these handy charts to everybody who came today, so you can impress your family and friends with your knowledge,” he added. “It makes a great conversation piece at parties. ”

But Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, offered his own lecture in his response to Obama’s speech.

“It is factually wrong for the president to say that the industry receives subsidies,” Gerard said. “A subsidy is a direct payment of money to a person or business by American taxpayers. The president has it backwards, our industry pays the government nearly $90 million a day — the biggest contributor of government revenue than any other industry in the United States.”

Obama’s speech comes on the same day that four Republicans held a press conference pushing legislation that would end all energy-specific tax breaks

The “Energy Freedom and Economic Prosperity Act” — which was introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) last fall — would eliminate a slew of energy tax credits valued at $90 billion over the next 10 years. Most of the tax credits targeted by the bill are for renewable power projects, though two would target oil and gas tax breaks.

Pompeo said today that his bill would get the government “out of the business of picking winners and losers” through the tax code.