Calling the oil spill “the worst environmental disaster of its kind in our nation’s history,” President Obama used the immediate crisis in the Gulf of Mexico to push the Senate to move quickly on a comprehensive energy plan. Obama said that the time has come to “aggressively accelerate” the nation’s transition to a clean energy economy.
“The next generation will not be held hostage to energy sources from the last century. We are not going to move backwards. We are going to move forward,” he said in a line he would repeat later in a more general sense about his agenda versus that of Republicans in Congress.
Obama was serving up some partisan red meat but the audience of about 300 people at Carnegie Mellon University did not seem to have a taste for it. There were few applause breaks and the crowd was largely subdued.
Without naming BP or any particular company, Obama said that one element of the transition to a clean energy economy is to roll back the billions of dollars of tax breaks to oil companies in order to make investments in clean energy research and development a priority.
Obama said that while the votes in the Senate may not be there right now for an energy plan, he intends to find them in the coming months.
“I will continue to make the case for a clean energy future wherever and whenever I can,” he said. “I will work with anyone to get this done -- and we will get it done.
Noting that his administration’s top priority is stopping the oil spill and containing the damage, Obama said the nation must acknowledge that there are “inherent risks” to drilling for oil four miles below ground and also acknowledge that the nation cannot continue its reliance on fossil fuels.
He said that he supports offshore drilling as one part of an overall energy strategy but the production must be safe and “used as a short-term solution while we transition to a clean energy economy.”
“The time has come to aggressively accelerate that transition. The time has come, once and for all, for this nation to fully embrace a clean energy future,” the president said to one of the few sustained applauses from the audience.
Obama said that in order to do that there must be an “unprecedented effort” to bring green technology to homes, businesses, trucks and cars; tapping into natural gas reserves and expanding nuclear power capability, and rolling back billions of dollars in tax breaks for oil companies.
In advance of the May jobs report that will be released on Friday, Obama said that the administration expects to see “strong job growth.”
Obama continued the campaign-style rhetoric he’s been using during speeches on the economy in recent weeks, focusing on the political obstructionism that he said Republicans in Congress have engaged in over the last year and a half.
He even went back to the Bush Administration and criticized its concept of an “ownership society,” which former President Bush spoke often about as a way of empowering citizens and limiting government.
Today Obama said that “what it essentially means is that everyone is on their own.”
“No matter how hard you work, if your paycheck isn’t enough to pay for college or health care or childcare, well, you’re on your own. If misfortune causes you to lose your job or your home, you’re on your own,” he said. “And if you’re a Wall Street bank or an insurance company or an oil company, you pretty much get to play by your own rules, regardless of the consequences for everybody else.”
Obama said that there has to be a balance to government’s reach and framed the difference between the two parties in terms of the upcoming midterm elections.
“As November approaches, leaders in the other party will campaign furiously on the same economic arguments they’ve been making for decades. Fortunately, we don't have to look back too many years to see how their agenda turns out,” he said
Obama said it’s clear where those Republican ideas led the nation and the choice for voters in November also will be clear: “We can return to the failed economic policies of the past, or we can keep building a stronger future. We can go backward, or we can keep moving forward.”