Obama Touts Clean Energy As Jobs Booster

President Obama held another green jobs event, this one in central Pennsylvania. By making buildings more energy efficient, he says, businesses could save money on their heat and electric bills — money they could then use to hire more workers.

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While Egypt has demanded much of President Obama's time these days, today he turned to domestic matters. Mr. Obama delivered a speech on jobs and innovation in State College, Pennsylvania. And he used the moment to introduce a proposal to make factories and office buildings more energy efficient.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama admits energy efficient buildings is not the sexiest sounding path of the future, but on a day when much of the country is shivering in subfreezing temperatures, cutting the heat and electric bill might have some appeal.

Commercial buildings consume about one-fifth of all the energy used at the U.S. Mr. Obama says a 20 percent gain in efficiency could save those businesses some $40 billion a year.

President BARACK OBAMA: Making our buildings more energy efficient is one of the fastest, easiest and cheapest ways to save money, combat pollution and create jobs right here in the United States of America. And that's what we're going to do.

(Soundbite of applause)

HORSLEY: The president was speaking at Penn State University, which will anchor a new energy innovation hub. That's where Mr. Obama outlined what he called a better building initiative. It would include rewards for local governments that adopt energy friendly building codes and financial incentives to help building owners cover the upfront cost of energy upgrades.

Pres. OBAMA: What we're saying to people is if you're willing to make your buildings more energy efficient, we'll provide new tax credits and financing opportunities for you to do so.

HORSLEY: That might not be easy, though. A similar plan for Mr. Obama last year, to make homes more energy efficient, stalled in Congress. With turmoil in the Middle East and a stronger global economy, energy prices are on the rise, though. Floyd DesChamps of the Alliance to Save Energy says that could boost the prospects for the president's plan.

FLOYD DESCHAMPS (Senior Vice President of Policy and Research, Alliance to Save Energy): I think the focus on rising energy prices and wherever you want to be as a nation in terms of being able to secure our energy future is making these types of investments more attractive today.

HORSLEY: Today's push is part of Mr. Obama's broader effort to encourage all sorts of innovation, especially in the area of clean energy. The president argues innovation is vital to the country's long-term economic success. And while he says innovation is largely the responsibility of private inventors and entrepreneurs, Mr. Obama insists government can play a key role.

Pres. OBAMA: In this country, from the moment you have a new idea, you can explore it in the world's best labs and universities. You can develop it with a research grant. You can protect it with a patent. You can market it with a loan to start a new business. You've got a chain that takes a great idea all the way through and that's something that we as a nation have always invested in.

HORSLEY: The president has not said how much he wants to invest in the Better Building Initiative. But details will be included in his budget later this month. Mr. Obama says this and other initiatives could be paid for by eliminating federal subsidies for oil companies and other producers of fossil fuels.

Pres. OBAMA: They are doing just fine on their own.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. OBAMA: So it's time to stop subsidizing yesterday's energy, it's time to invest in tomorrow's. It's time to win the future. That's what our project is.

(Soundbite of cheering)

HORSLEY: The win the future economic theme that Mr. Obama unveiled in his State of the Union speech has been largely overshadowed this week by events in Egypt. Winning the future is that much harder in the midst of a messy international present.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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