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Amid Focus On Spill, Obama Touts Alternative Energy

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Amid Focus On Spill, Obama Touts Alternative Energy


Amid Focus On Spill, Obama Touts Alternative Energy

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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No one complains of course when solar energy washes over a beach. President Obama visits a solar cell factory in California today. He'll be touting a federal loan guarantee that's helping the company add jobs. The visit is part of a broader push by the White House to promote alternative forms of energy.

But in the wake of the massive Gulf oil spill, some observers say the president is missing an opportunity for even stronger action.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: The Solyndra Company in Fremont, California, was one of the early beneficiaries of Obama's support for green energy. Last year, the federal government guaranteed a half billion dollar loan for the company.

White House economic adviser, Jared Bernstein, says that's allowing Solyndra to build a new solar cell factory employing 3,000 construction workers and creating 1,000 permanent jobs.

Mr. JARED BERNSTEIN (Economic Adviser, White House): But what's happening at Solyndra isn't just about new jobs today, it's about new industries tomorrow. What's more, these new industries are in the business of clean, renewable energy, thus invoking environmental benefits while reducing our dependence on foreign imports of fossil fuels.

HORSLEY: The administration wants to do more to encourage alternative forms of energy, including solar, wind and nuclear power. It's asked Congress to expedite funding for additional loan guarantees.

Last week, President Obama also called for higher fuel economy standards for cars and trucks of the future. He says it's important to stretch every gallon of oil as far as it can go.

President BARACK OBAMA: And the disaster in the Gulf only underscores that, even as we pursue domestic production to reduce our reliance on imported oil, our long-term security depends on the development of alternative sources of fuel and new transportation technologies.

HORSLEY: But the president acknowledged it would take more than loan guarantees or higher fuel economy standards to make the U.S. a leader in green energy. He repeated his pledge to work with Congress to pass a broad energy and climate bill.

Political adviser David Axelrod said on MSNBC, this week, that effort could get a lift from the oil spill.

Mr. DAVID AXELROD (Political Adviser): I would like to think that this will increase the sense of urgency in Congress, because it underscores the value in developing alternative sources of energy. So, I hope that it will give added impetus. We're going to press very hard.

HORSLEY: But some have questioned whether the administration's pressing hard enough.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman accused the president of a Bush-level failure of imagination. He wrote that just as President Bush squandered an opportunity to remake energy policy with a gasoline tax after the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Obama is failing to capitalize on the oil spill.

Energy expert Michael Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations says that may be going too far.

Mr. MICHAEL LEVI (Energy Expert, Council on Foreign Relations): 9/11 made terrorism and the Middle East number one on every American's agenda. The oil spill has not made oil and energy number one on every American's agenda this time. And that gives the president a much more difficult situation to work with.

HORSLEY: Levi says passing a big energy bill isn't like financial regulation, where the administration successfully channeled public anger with Wall Street into new legislation. Although the public is angry at BP, he says, that won't necessarily translate into support for, say, a new carbon tax.

Mr. LEVI: It simply is not intuitively clear to anyone in this country, why you need to do something that addresses coal power plants and that changes electricity rates because of an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama said last week he's encouraged by the efforts of Democratic Senator John Kerry and Independent Joe Lieberman to craft an energy and climate bill. But the lone Republican who had been working on that effort, Lindsey Graham, withdrew his support.

The president had hoped to win some GOP backing for an energy bill by including an expansion of offshore oil drilling. But with claims about the safety of deepwater drilling now discredited, that bargaining chip is very much in doubt.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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