By: E&P Staff
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), as chief speaker at the Associated Press annual luncheon at the Fairmont Hotel Monday afternoon, strongly criticized the White House energy plan. In a sober address with few of his trademark rhetorical flourishes, he accused the Bush administration of a “stubborn refusal” to attack the causes of climate change, and said that tougher fuel standards, stricter curbs on oil imports and more investment in cleaner energy are essential to avert global catastrophe.
The luncheon fell on the second day of the Newspaper Association of America convention at the Fairmont, and the third day of the annual Nexpo gathering.
Obama had to race back to Washington for a vote in the Senate but paused to answer a handful of questions. The final question, posed by AP Chairman Burl Osborne, asked him to list the most important issues for Democrats to take up in 2008 in the race for the White Houjse–with part two being, would he like to serve on the ticket?
After listing the top three issues in order as energy independence, education and increasing spending on science, he had to be reminded by Osborne that he had not replied to part two of the question. “Health care is important, too,” Obama quipped, and then he was off.
During his speech, Obama, a rising Democratic “star,” declared that saying that America is addicted to oil, as President Bush has done, without following a real plan for energy independence “is like admitting alcoholism and then skipping out on the 12-step program.
“It’s not enough to identify the challenge. We have to meet it,” Obama said.
Mentioning that he has daughters age 7 and 4, he said he feared for their future world, adding. “History is testing our generation.” He was particularly strong in raising the alarm about global warming. “Far too many have ignored it or claimed it was a hoaxed,” he declared. He said it had been “accelerated by man and can be slowed by man.”
He asserted that the government should provide tax breaks and loan guarantees to show the way toward greater use of environmentally friendlier energy sources.
He cited several pieces of legislation he has introduced in Congress, including one to help defray the auto industry’s costs of investment in more fuel-efficient cars. It calls for the federal government to pick up a portion of the costs automakers pay for retiree health care, so long as companies use some of the savings to retool their factories.
Obama said the Big Three domestic automakers spent $6.7 billion on retiree health care costs in 2004.
“It’s a win-win proposal for the industry–their retirees will be taken care of, they’ll save money on health care and they’ll be free to invest in the kind of fuel-efficient cars that are the key to their competitive future,” he said of the legislation.
“As gas prices keep rising, the Middle East grows every more unstable and the ice caps continue to melt, we face a now-or-never, once-in-a-generation opportunity to set this country on a different course.”
He says the country should reduce oil imports by more than 7.5 million barrels a day by 2025, a cutback two-thirds greater than the administration’s target of 4.5 million barrels.
The fuel economy standards should be raised 3% a year over the next 15 years, beginning in 2008, Obama said.
The use of corn-based ethanol in fuel should be encouraged, supporting tax breaks for companies to install the necessary tanks on their cars and for consumers who use E85, a blended fuel.
“Unless we free ourselves from a dependence on these fossil fuels and chart a new course on energy in this country, we are condemning future generations to global catastrophe,” said the first-term Democrat.
He accused the president of failing to follow up on his State of the Union statement that America is too dependent on foreign oil. “I was among the hopeful. But then I saw the plan,” he said.
More broadly, he said, the “administration’s record on climate change is almost legendary. … Just recently, this is the administration that tried to silence a NASA scientist for letting the rest of us know that, yes, climate change is a pretty big deal.”