FREMONT, CA -- When Mitt Romney arrived at the gates of the bankrupt solar energy company Solyndra this afternoon, he didn't do it before cheering supporters or backed by a large coterie of staff.
He pulled up on the press bus with the rest of his traveling media contingent.
Romney's staff, fearful, they said, of being blocked by the administration from holding an event here, kept the location of today's press conference secret, even from the press who cover the candidate.
On Wednesday, reporters who cover the candidate were told to get themselves from Las Vegas to San Francisco for an "event" in the bay area on Thursday. No other details were given, except to be ready at a hotel parking lot early this morning.
Professionally curious, the Romney press corps set about cracking the secret code of the event and breaking the story.
"I've got nothing for ya," one aide told NBC.
"Sorry, can't help you," replied another Romney staffer via email, complete with a frowny face emoticon.
And so it was this morning, when 31 members of the national and local press boarded a bus in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn Express, armed only with educated guesses – no reportable confirmation – that Romney was headed to Solyndra.
Message discipline, and an inner circle that sees leaks as treasonous, won this round.
The secrecy, one top aide explained, was to prevent the Obama administration blocking the event from taking place. The aide did not explain how that might happen.
The aide also said the campaign did not fear protesters disrupting the event, as pro-Romney protesters and staff did to Obama senior adviser David Axelrod this morning at an event on the steps of the statehouse in Boston.
Then, Romney boarded the bus.
Beyond a cursory wave and good morning, he didn't chat with the press, but rode in relative silence with a small group of aides and a few Secret Service agents surrounding him in the front of the bus.
Romney was asked why the event -- which ultimately lasted only about 10 minutes on a Nimitz Highway median -- was kept so secret. He offered a somewhat conspiratorial answer.
"I think there are people who don’t want to see this event occur, don’t want to have questions asked about this particular investment, don’t want to have people delve into the idea that the president took a half-a-billion dollars of taxpayer money and devoted it to an enterprise that was owned in large measure by his campaign contributors," Romney said.
This is the former Massachusetts governor's first trip to Solyndra, but he regularly highlights its failing, despite support from governmental loans, in his stump speeches and fundraisers.
Mitt Romney has outlined a bold agenda to spur economic growth and create jobs. On his first day in office, he will approve the Keystone pipeline, introduce pro-growth tax reforms, and repeal Obamacare.
Forget a president's first 100 days. Mitt Romney's first television ad of the general election, "Day One," comes as close as anything in describing the most urgent priorities of a President Romney upon taking office.
The ad is running in five swing states, and the presumptive GOP nominee's campaign is putting $1.3 million behind it; a Spanish-language analog is running in North Carolina, with a much smaller ad buy behind it.
Nonetheless, Romney's ad is meant to drive a three-point plan: 1. Approve the Keystone Pipeline, 2. Introduce tax reform, and 3. Begin dismantling and replacing President Obama's health care law.
In short, Romney's message is about jobs, taxes, energy and health care.
So what do we know about the specifics of Romney's three-point plan?
Republicans, including Romney, have vocally criticized President Obama for rejecting an initial proposal by the TransCanada Corporation to build an oil pipeline through the central United States. The administration rejected the project out of environmental concerns and because it felt Republicans were rushing its approval of the project, at the expense of due diligence. (TransCanada has subsequently re-applied for a permit to build a pipeline along new routes.)
Romney invoking the example is meant to address the issues of jobs and energy.
TransCanada and supporters of the pipeline -- who range from Republicans in Congress to the organized labor community -- contend the project would create at least 20,000 jobs. The project's most ardent supporters claim these, in turn, would lead to additional job creation.
As for energy, it's much more difficult to say what the effect of building the Keystone Pipeline would have on the price of oil. Its mere approval could conceivably diminish speculation that drives up oil prices, but gauging the direct impact is difficult. Moreover, the pipeline would take years to become fully operational and deliver excess supply to gas stations in the U.S.
"Taking advantage of our energy resources is one of my priorities," Romney said Friday in a conference call with supporters. Among his other plans for his first day in office, Romney said he would also allow expanded permits for oil and gas exploration on federal lands. Romney said, for instance, he would authorize drilling on the East Coast's Outer Continental Shelf.
Tax reform -
The centerpiece of Romney's plan would include a permanent, across-the-board reduction of 20 percent for all income tax brackets.
He's also on the record supporting a number of other tax cuts, including maintaining current tax rates on investment income, eliminating the taxes on estates, cutting the corporate tax rate to 25 percent, and repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax, among other reforms.
The impact of these reforms on the rising national debt -- something Romney routinely decries -- is much more opaque, though.
Romney has said eliminating some tax deductions, combined with economic growth and cuts in spending would make the impact of his tax plan deficit-neutral at a minimum.
"One thing I'm also going to to do is work with Congress to limit the deductions and exemptions and special deals that are in our tax code," Romney said on the conference call.
But the former Massachusetts governor hasn't specified the exemptions or deductions he would eliminate beyond a select few (for instance, the mortgage deductions associated with a second home). Romney has previously said that the wealthy might shoulder a greater tax burden under his reforms, though he hasn't said how. (An analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has suggested that might not be the case.) The Romney campaign also hasn't provided a detailed enough tax plan in order to subject it to static or dynamic scoring of its impact on the deficit and debt.
As for the spending side, Romney's website offers some additional details, but not enough to necessarily account for the total impact of his plan -- either on jobs, or the deficit.
The "issues" section of Romney's website includes an additional "Day One" promise: to send Congress a bill slashing non-defense discretionary spending by five percent across-the-board.
Other parts of Romney's site detail areas he would cut, and the savings associated with each of those cuts. Those savings include the elimination of subsidies to programs like the National Endowment for the Arts, and cuts in subsidies to Amtrak or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
"There are items that I like that I will stop funding," Romney explained during the call.
Health reform -
Romney's new ad calls for not just the repeal of "ObamaCare," but its replacement, as well.
If part or all of the law were allowed to stand following the Supreme Court's ruling next month, Romney would have some options to undo the law on his first day in office, but they would be limited.
The former Massachusetts governor has said his ultimate goal is to return health care decisions to individual states, and create incentives for more efficient health care delivery.
Romney repeated his promise to issue a waiver to states, allowing them to duck some of the requirements of health care reform that conservatives find most onerous. But many other parts of the law would remain in effect, and would require legislative action to both enact a repeal of ObamaCare and a subsequent replacement. That could conceivably pass the House if it were to remain in Republican control, but unless Republicans were to somehow win a 60-seat majority in the Senate this fall, the GOP would need to attract Democratic support for Romney's alternative.
* * *
There are other things Romney said he would do on his first day, among them labeling China a currency manipulator and putting a hold on regulations enacted by the Obama administration.
Democrats have contested Romney's ad, with the Obama campaign labeling it as full of "empty promises."
"We know why Mitt Romney didn’t keep his promises- his business experience wasn’t in strengthening companies and creating jobs for long-term economic growth. It was in reaping quick profits for himself and his investors at the expense of workers and communities," said Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for the president's re-election. "These are the values that he wants to bring to the White House by giving more budget-busting tax cuts to the wealthy and letting Wall Street write its own rules—the same formula that benefited a few, but crashed our economy and punished the middle class."
A Democratic super PAC, American Bridge 21st Century, also produced a parody ad concluding of Romney's first-day plans: "We'll pass."
President Obama introduced a new round of measures that he said would make it easier for the administration to crack down on oil market manipulation amid persistently high gas prices.
“Today we're announcing new steps to strengthen oversight of energy markets,” Obama said, noting how continued high gas prices have made it hard for families to do things like commute and go to the grocery store.
Most of the new measures would require congressional approval, including a request for more “cops on the beat” for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, as well as more money to update the commission’s technology.
President Obama pushed Congress to give oil market regulators more muscle to deter price manipulation by speculators. Watch his entire statement.
Obama compared the expanding energy market to professional football, which adds more referees if it adds more teams. “Imagine if the NFL quadrupled the number of teams but didn't increase the number of refs. You'd end up having havoc on the field and it would diminish the game. It wouldn't be fair.”
The president also asked Congress to increase the maximum penalties for market manipulators and raise the amount of money required for oil futures traders to back up their trades.
“Congress should do all of this right away,” Obama said, criticizing Senate Republicans for voting down a bill in March that would have stripped oil companies of $24 billion in tax subsidies (four Democrats - Jim Webb of Virginia, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Begich of Alaska – also voted against the bill).
He said that Congress’ approval of the steps announced today would be “a chance to make amends” after rejecting the oil subsidy bill.
The president did announce one measure that does not require approval from Congress: an executive order that will increase data the data shared between the administration’s Council of Economic Advisers and the CFTC on energy market trading.
Senior administration officials today would not estimate how much of an impact these new regulations would have on oil prices or how much speculative activity they would curtail, but said that the measures would boost consumer confidence that prices at the pump were not being influenced by market manipulation.
Before Obama spoke in the Rose Garden, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that the president already had all the tools available to enforce oil market regulations through the Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Trade Commission.
“So instead of just another political gimmick, why doesn't he put his administration to work to get to the bottom of it,” Boehner said during a briefing with reporters Tuesday morning.
The Obama administration approved further sanctions Friday on Iranian crude oil exports after determining that oil supplies were adequate to justify the new penalties.
President Obama announced the new sanctions, which were written into law by Congress and will take effect at the end of June, which actually bar foreign banks from doing business in the United States if they buy or sell Iranian crude oil.
The White House was careful not to speculate on how this would affect global oil and gas prices. A Democratic aide said that while congressional leadership had been notified of the president's decision before it became public, there was no mention of the strategic petroleum reserve in that notice.
According to a statement from Press Secretary Jay Carney, while the administration believes "the oil market became increasingly tight over the first two months of 2012" and "that tightness remains today," there still "appears to be sufficient supply of non-Iranian oil to permit foreign countries to significantly reduce their import of Iranian oil."
The State Department believes there are currently 23 countries that publicly import Iranian oil. The State Department announced exemptions from these sanctions last week for 11 of those countries. Those 11 countries (Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Japan) have taken steps to significantly reduce their imports of Iranian crude oil.
Senior administration officials say that the exemptions list is not finalized, and they are still in consultations with allies like South Korea and Turkey about how to proceed. This was one of the issues that came up during Obama's talks with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak earlier this week when the President was in Korea for the Nuclear Security Summit. There were indications that South Korea had an interest in pursuing a reduction in importing Iranian oil and avoiding these sanctions.
Two other countries on the sanctions list, India and China, are significant importers of Iranian oil. A senior administration official says that even if these two countries do not reduce their imports, the moves by the U.S. government will put pressure on Iran "above and beyond anything it's experienced before." And the official clarified that they continue to have a dialogue with both India and China.
President Obama on Thursday urged passage of a bill before the Senate that would limit existing tax breaks for the nation's largest oil and gas companies.
Speaking in the Rose Garden, Obama said Congress “can either vote to spend billions of dollars on oil subsidies that keep us trapped in the past. Or they can vote to end these taxpayer subsidies so that we can invest in the future. It’s that simple.”
He criticized Congress for thinking “up until this point” that “it’s a good idea to send billions more of your tax dollars to the oil industry.”
He added that such energy companies are “doing just fine” without the extra tax boost, noting that the three biggest oil companies saw more than $80 billion in profits alone last year.
“It’s not like these are companies that can’t stand on their own,” he continued.
According to the White House, Obama’s Rose Garden audience included representatives from energy, business and environmental groups as well as people who posted about the impact of higher fuel prices on the White House websites and social media.
The Senate was expected to vote on the “Repeal Big Oil Subsidies Act” shortly after the president spoke. The bill, written by Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez (NJ) would repeal over $20 billion in tax breaks to the major oil and gas companies: BP, Exxon, Shell, Chevron and Conoco Phillips.
The Senate voted overwhelmingly to bring the bill up for debates, but Republicans will oppose its final passage; the GOP had looked to set up a broader debate over gas prices, and they have assailed the Democratic proposal as a de facto tax hike.
Earlier today, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell criticized Democrats for pushing the bill, which he said won’t do anything to lower gas prices.
"That was their brilliant plan on how to deal with gas prices: raise taxes on energy,” McConnell said, criticizing Senate Democrats for allowing a “tedious” amount of what he said were strictly politicized show votes.
UPDATE, 12 p.m.: Noting that Obama has been calling for oil industry tax incentives since his first term in office, the RNC released a statement saying, “President Obama will say and do anything it takes to get reelected even if it means doing a Rose Garden photo-op to pretend increasing energy taxes will lower gas prices. This is just more smoke and mirrors from a president who doesn’t have an energy policy while Americans struggle to pay higher gas prices at the pump.”
The White House today defended the performance of its solicitor general during the three-day Supreme Court hearings on the health care law, saying it has “complete confidence” in his abilities.
“Mr. Verrilli is a very talented advocate and a skilled lawyer,” White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said, referring to Solicitor General Donald Verrilli. “He's one of the brightest legal minds in Washington, D.C. And we've had complete confidence in his performance before the Supreme Court.”
Verrilli’s job defending the law’s individual mandate on Tuesday was panned by many critics on the left after he faced a tough line of questioning from many of the justices.
Earlier on Wednesday, the White House released a statement from White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler in support of Verrilli, leading reporters to ask Earnest why the White House would release such a statement if not to defend Verrilli’s performance.
“Because somebody asked,” Earnest responded.
He also said the White House remains confident that the Supreme Court will ultimately uphold the health care law’s constitutionality, noting that several lower courts, known for their conservative positions, found the individual mandate –- the focus of conservative legal opposition to law –- to be within the federal government’s constitutional powers.
“In fact, there have been lower court cases on this very issue, on the Affordable Care Act, where conservative judges have posed difficult, tough questions to Department of Justice lawyers. And at least in a couple of those cases, these conservative judges, despite their tough questions, ended up ruling, ended up upholding the Affordable Care Act,” Earnest said.
But when asked what the administration would do if the Supreme Court does, in fact, overturn the law when it makes its ruling in June, Earnest said the White House has no contingency plans and is “focused on implementing the law, and we are confident that the law is constitutional.”
Other notes from the White House:
The Department of Interior today took an incremental step in its plans to expand offshore drilling, announcing that it will begin exploring the environmental impact of doing seismic research in mid- and south-Atlantic waters. But drilling is still a long way off: the plan under which new research is permissible does not include the sale of any new leases to drill off the East Coast. Such leases would not be available for sale until 2017 at the earliest.
The White House also declined to comment on accounts from the French government that it is in talks with the U.S. and Britain related to tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Earnest said that while the strategic reserve remains “on the table,” “anybody who tries to convince you in this government or any other government, frankly, that specific decisions have been made or actions have been proposed is -- is not speaking accurately.”
The Senate voted Monday evening to move ahead with a Democratic-favored measure intended to repeal over $20 billion in tax breaks to the "Big Five" oil and gas companies.
Republicans joined with Democrats to advance the legislation, largely to position themselves for a broader fight with Democrats over gas prices and President Obama's energy policies -- a bipartisan vote on paper, if not in practice.
Ninety-two senators voted to begin debate on the measure; just four senators opposed it.
The "Repeal Big Oil Subsidies Act" sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) would curb tax breaks over the next 10 years for the five most profitable oil and gas companies -- BP, Exxon, Shell, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips. Menendez told reporters today the oil companies should not receive "wasteful taxpayer subsidies" on top of $1 trillion in profits.
"To me this is an easy choice, you're either on the side of big oil making record profits who certainly don't need the American taxpayers money' ... or you're on the side of the American driver and the American tax payer," Menendez told reporters.
Republicans joined Democrats in allowing the debate in hopes of framing the issue as a tax hike on energy prices. They've worked to pigeonhole the administration on this issue, as well as other energy initiatives like the Keystone XL pipeline.
Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) said an amendment could be offered to the Menendez legislation that would green light the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
“We want to address energy policy, we want to reduce gas prices…we think we have great solutions that the American people want” he said today after he voted to move the measure ahead.
Senate Democrats say the money saved from ending the tax breaks could go toward deficit reduction and be used to extend a series of expiring clean energy tax incentives.
Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D), a co-sponsor of the bill, called the the measure a "no-brainer" that would be a fundamental change in the nation's energy policy.
"The last thing we need is hard earned tax payer dollars in the form of subsidies," she said.
Menendez and Stabenow did not directly address how the legislation might impact gas prices; Republicans argue that rescinding the tax credits constitute a de facto tax hike on gas, the cost of which would be passed along to consumers.
"In response to record-high gas prices, Democrats in Congress want to raise taxes on the very people who produce it," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Monday. "Meanwhile, the president is blocking a pipeline that would decrease our dependence on Middle East oil and create thousands of American jobs."
Stabenow countered by recalling a hearing last year, where executives from the Big Five oil companies told the Senate Finance Committee that ending these tax breaks would not drive up the price of gas.
The Obama administration additionally backed the Senate bill on Monday, releasing a statement saying it fit with the president's energy strategy.
"There is no silver bullet when it comes to high gas prices, which is why the administration has consistently advocated for an 'all-of-the-above' approach when it comes to the nation's energy policy," the official statement of administration policy read. "By ending taxpayer subsidies to large oil companies and investing part of that money in a clean energy industry that has never been more promising, [the Senate bill] is consistent with that approach."
President Obama fired up a crowd at Ohio State University last Thursday by arguing that oil companies don't need any more help making profits.
"We have been subsidizing oil companies for a century. That's long enough. It is time to stop a taxpayer giveaway to an industry that's rarely been more profitable, and start making investments in a clean energy industry that has never been more promising," he said.
Republicans have in recent weeks waged an all-out blitz against President Barack Obama over the issue of gas prices, but the political benefit could prove fleeting, if and when fuel prices decline.
The steady rise in gas prices this spring provides Republicans with their most immediate example of the pocketbook fleecing suffered by voters, prompting the party to pounce. While some indicators point toward a tentative economic recovery -- which could be to the president’s political benefit -- the lost income associated with higher gas prices has led the GOP’s presidential contenders and leaders in Congress to complain that it’s Obama’s energy policies that have contributed to upped costs.
Jae C. Hong / AP
Gasoline pricesare now averaging more than $4 in six states plus Washington, D.C.
And from Republicans’ vantage point, Obama is on the ropes on the issue. They point to his energy tour last week, which included a stop at the southern portion of the Keystone XL Pipeline, as an example of the White House’s response to Republican pressure.
“The issue of gas prices is near the top now in terms of what we're hearing from people,” said Republican Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner. “President Obama wouldn't be taking credit for a pipeline he has nothing to do with unless he weren't feeling pressure that he's not doing enough.”
Republicans are also encouraged by recent poll numbers, which make them think gas prices are a winning issue.
A healthy majority of Americans -- 57 percent in a Gallup Poll this week -- support the construction of the Keystone Pipeline, and four in 10 Americans called the energy situation in the U.S. is “very serious” right now.
But, for Republicans, living by the price of gas, might risk dying by the price of gas.
“We'll see how short-lived people's memories are,” said Oklahoma Rep. James Lankford, a Republican whose district is near the site in Cushing, Okla., that the president visited Thursday.
Lankford said he expected a drop in fuel prices this fall associated with the end of the summer driving season. But he also expressed concern that voters might grow accustomed to the higher gas prices, thereby allowing Obama to boast of the decline in prices before the election.
“I’m afraid we're going to set the same thing with gas prices where if we're down to $3.30 (a gallon), they're saying, hey, that's a good thing,” he said. “It does have the possibility of setting a new low and lulling people into that.”
There are other indications as to why Republicans might be taking a risk by betting the house on gas prices.
While voters call prices a serious issue, it ranks fourth -- at 8 percent -- among the most important priority among voters, according to the March NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. By comparison, 18 percent of Americans called energy and the cost of gas their top issue -- making it second most important -- in August of 2008, when prices were similarly high, and then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was voicing the slogan, “Drill, baby, drill!”
The administration hasn’t shown a willingness to sit back and concede the issue, either.
"Every time prices start to go up -- especially during an election year -- politicians, they start dusting off their 3-point plan for $2.00 gas," Obama said Thursday in Columbus, Ohio, mocking his Republican opponents. "They head down to the gas station and they make sure a few cameras are following them, and then they tell you how we’re going to have cheap gas forever if you just vote for them. And it has been the same script for 30 years -- the same thing. It has been like a bad re-run."
And liberal groups have come to the president’s defense, too.
“I think that the thing Americans understand is that giving oil companies everything they want is not going to solve our energy policies,” said Navin Nayak, the senior vice president for campaigns at the League of Conservation Voters.
Priorities USA Action, the pro-Obama super PAC, also went on offense by attacking Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney for raising fees on gas during his time as governor of Massachusetts.
For his part, Romney has called for the firing of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar -- whom he dubbed the “gas hike trio.”
But in an effort to broaden his message beyond the exact price of gas (unlike rival Newt Gingrich, who’s premised his campaign on the promise of lowering gas prices to $2.50 a gallon if elected), Romney said he couldn’t promise to bring prices down.
“I'm not predicting they're going to go down to $2 per gallon. I know there are some who think that's possible. Anything's possible in this world, but I think gasoline prices are going to be high,” he said Friday on New Orleans’ WWL radio. “However, they don't have to be as high as we're seeing under this president, if we develop our own energy resources and provide them to the refiners ... in this nation.”
Romney’s comment belies the point, though, that gas prices are unlikely to go back to the lows they were at when Obama took office. The financial crisis and recession had driven prices to a relative low, though Republicans still figure to use that price against Obama despite the economic recovery.
“I think we just maintain the message,” Lankford said. “The easiest way to say it is that it was $1.87 when he took office.”
CUSHING, OK -- Surrounded by massive green pipes that will eventually make up part of the Keystone oil pipeline, President Obama today praised the decision by TransCanada to move forward with the southern portion of the controversial energy project.
"Right now, a company called TransCanada has applied to build a new pipeline to speed more oil from Cushing to state-of-the-art refineries down on the Gulf Coast," Obama said in Cushing, OK. "And today, I am directing my administration to cut through red tape, break through bureaucratic hurdles, and make this project a priority."
Obama also used the occasion to announce that he is instructing federal agencies to expedite the permitting process for the Cushing pipeline as well as an executive order for agencies to overall issue permits faster for “vital infrastructure projects.”
Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images
President Obama talks about his administration's energy efforts on Thursday in Cushing, Okla.
Since news of this announcement broke on Tuesday, Republicans have slammed the move as an attempt to take ownership of a process over which the White House has no actual authority.
“The president can take credit for having nothing to do with the bottom half of this pipeline, and the fact is is there's only one permit that requires his approval because it crosses our national boundaries and that's the keystone decision on the upper half of this," House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said at a press conference on Capitol Hill.
President Obama speaks to a crowd Thursday in Cushing, Okla., explaining the need to construct an oil pipeline that reaches America's Gulf Coast.
Republicans have been vocal in their criticism of the Obama administration for not moving forward with the full pipeline; the administration declined earlier this year to approve a permit request that would have allowed for the construction of the full, transnational oil pipeline.
Obama said in Cushing that he would continue pushing for oil exploration and development, but he would seek to "do it in a way that protects the health and safety of the American people."
"We don't have to choose between one or the other," he said, "We can do both."
But the White House on Wednesday provided an unclear picture of which agencies specifically would have authority to expedite the procedure for the TransCanada route and other pipelines.
Asked during a flight from Washington, D.C. to Nevada, where the president spoke earlier Wednesday, press secretary Jay Carney told reporters, “I just don’t have those details handy for you” when asked which agencies are involved in such processes.
Senior administration officials were later asked the same question on a conference call, as a reporter mentioned the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Army Corps of Engineers as two agencies that might be involved.
One official said that permitting and review requirements would depend on the specific route and details of each pipeline plan but that “the agencies you suggested are in line with our best estimate.”
After his speech in Cushing, President Obama flew to Columbus, Ohio to make a speech on energy research and development at Ohio State University.
BOULDER CITY, NV – President Obama touted solar energy as an “industry on the rise” and condemned Republican skeptics of this power source in his first stop on a nationwide energy tour.
“This is an industry on the rise. It’s a source of energy that’s becoming cheaper. And more and more businesses are starting to take notice,” Obama said, noting that 16 solar projects have been approved on public land since he took office.
But, standing in front of a vast field of solar panels set against a Nevada mountain skyline, Obama criticized those politicians who he said “make jokes” about alternative energy.
Using a new favorite catch phrase for lawmakers he considers outdated, Obama said, “If these people were around when Columbus set sail, they’d be charter members of the Flat Earth Society.”
The president toured the Copper Mountain photovoltaic facility in Boulder City, Nevada – the largest of its type in the country – before making his remarks, which were intended to highlight one pillar of his “all-of-the-above” energy strategy.
The Copper Mountain solar panel site was constructed in 2010 and produces enough solar energy to power more than 17,000 homes, according to plant’s owner company Sempra Generation. Most of the homes it powers are in Southern California, not Nevada.
While the bulk of the project was financed with private money, it did receive about $40 million in federal tax credits – the sort of funding Obama said the federal government should continue to provide in order to jump-start emerging industries.
He acknowledged, however, that such government investments sometimes do not pay off – an indirect reference, perhaps, to the Solyndra solar power company that went bankrupt in 2011 despite receiving $535 million in federal stimulus loan guarantees.
“Each successive generation recognizes that some technologies are going to work, some won’t; some companies will fail, some companies will succeed,” Obama said.
But he likened such failures to the trail-and-error of now-established industries like automobiles and airplanes, which he noted once were both fledgling technologies themselves.
“Not every auto company succeeded in the early days of the auto industry. Not every airplane manufacturer succeeded in the early days of aviation.”
Obama also compared the Copper Mountain solar facility to an earlier federal energy project – the Hoover Dam, for which Boulder City, just 20 minutes away, was originally constructed as a suburb for dam builders during the 1930s.
“Eight decades ago, in the midst of the Great Depression, the people of Boulder City were busy working on another energy project that you may have heard of. Like today, it was a little bit ahead of its time,” Obama said, referring to the dam. “Even today it stands as a testimony to American ingenuity, American imagination and the power of the American spirit.”
Perhaps coincidentally, Obama’s praise of the Hoover Dam came just days after the government-funded project was mentioned by Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney as an example of the kind of large-scale construction projects America is capable of.
“We once built the interstate highway system and the Hoover Dam. Today, we can't even build a pipeline,” Romney said Monday in Illinois, referring to the stalled northern portion of the Keystone oil pipeline.
(Obama’s energy tour is not considered by the White House to be an official campaign jaunt.)
President Obama delivered what was billed as an energy speech on Thursday in Maryland, though his remarks took campaign overtones when Obama mocked his Republican challengers as members of the "Flat Earth Society."
While he didn’t mention any of the GOP presidential hopefuls by name, the president derided the Republican field as being stuck in the past.
"Lately, we’ve heard a lot of professional politicians, a lot of the folks who are, you know, running for a certain office. Who shall go unnamed," Obama said. "They've been talking down new sources of energy. They dismiss wind power. They dismiss solar power. They make jokes about biofuels. They were against raising fuel standards. I guess they like gas guzzlers."
"We’re trying to move towards the future," the president continued, "they want to be stuck in the past."
A number of the Republican candidates have hammered Obama on the issue of soaring gas prices, particularly former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has promised energy prices that would lower the price of gas to $2.50 per gallon.
Obama also took it a step further, comparing the Republican candidates to the naysayers who thought explorer Christopher Columbus would fall off the edge of the Earth when he set sail for the New World.
“If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail...They must have been founding members of the Flat Earth Society. They would not have believed that the Earth was round,” the president joked to a laughing crowd. (For the uninitiated, the Flat Earth Society dates back to the 1800s and consists of people who believe the Earth is not round.)
The president also insisted that he is not against drilling within the U.S. for more oil.
“Over the last three years my administration has opened millions of acres of land in 23 different states for oil and gas exploration. Offshore, offshore, I’ve directed my administration to open up more than 75 percent of our potential resources. That includes an area in the Gulf of Mexico we opened up a few months ago that could produce more than 400 million barrels of oil," he said. "So do not tell me that we're not drilling. We're drilling all over this country."
And while trying to sympathize with people who are struggling with rising gas prices, Obama claimed that this was one of the reasons he fought so hard in the last few months for the payroll tax cut extension.
“We passed a payroll tax [cut] at the beginning of this year to make sure that everybody has an extra $40 in their paycheck on average, in part, because we anticipated that gas prices might be going up like they did last year, given tight world oil supplies.”
But he acknowledged that $40 dollars isn’t necessarily enough, “That doesn't make it easier for a lot of families out there that are just struggling to get by. This is tough.”
FARGO, ND — Opening a new front against President Obama in oil-rich North Dakota today, Mitt Romney argued that president Obama deserved “no credit” for increases in domestic oil production, and said the president should be “hanging his head” over the state of American energy.
“So far from taking credit, he should be hanging his head and taking a little bit of the blame for what's going on today,” Romney told a town hall audience of about 200 Fargoans gathered for a town-hall style event.
“He's cut the lease rate [for exploration on federal lands] in half - and how about giving permits to drillers? He's cut that rate of permitting down to one third. This is a president who's not been helping the situation,” Romney said.
Hours after Romney spoke here, President Obama delivered his own energy-related address in New Hampshire.
Romney also took the president to task for pushing to regulate hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells, an extraction technique commonly known as “fracking,” at the federal, rather than state level, saying such a move would “stifle” domestic oil production.
Fracking consists of injecting hundreds of thousands of gallons of a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into oil and gas wells at high pressure to fracture rock and release oil and gas within. The technique, by no means new, has earned the attention of environmentalists in recent years, who fear chemical spills or contamination of local supplies and aquifers, particularly in formations near major population centers like the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio.
Romney’s comments received a warm reception here, where horizontal drilling techniques, rising oil and gas prices and an expansion in fracturing in the Bakken shale formation beneath North Dakota has led to a jobs boom, and the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 3.3%. Employers have struggled here to find qualified truck drivers, roughnecks and engineers, and so-called “man-camps” have sprung up across the state to accommodate workers from other states swarming to North Dakota for jobs linked to the oil and gas industry.
“If you've got a clean record, and you can drive a truck, you're making minimum $60,000," state representative Bette Grande told NBC before the event.
“You're not going to find a hotel room, that’s for sure," Grande added, explaining that the state has been simply unable to keep up with the infrastructure needs of a booming oil-and-gas economy. Roads strain under tractor-trailer traffic, and housing remains a constant need.
For his own energy policy, he former Massachusetts governor described something of a “kitchen sink” approach that would include increased domestic coal and oil production (including offshore and in ANWAR), approval of the Keystone pipeline, and greater reliance on nuclear power, as well as alternative sources of energy.
“I like wind and solar... but they're not going to drive our cars,” Romney said.