Obama to traditional energy producers: Get with the program

Source: By Devin Henry , The Hill • Posted: Tuesday, August 25, 2015

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President Obama challenged energy utilities, fossil fuel producers and their allies in Congress on Monday to get onboard with his push for clean energy or risk backlash from American consumers and companies.

Speaking at a clean energy summit in Las Vegas, Obama dismissed energy interests that oppose his push to green the energy sector as “naysayers” who are “backed by fossil fuel interests, or conservative think tanks, or the Koch brothers.”

He encouraged supporters to fight back against them and their push to influence American energy policy.“They’re trying to undermine competition in the marketplace and choke off consumer choice and threaten an industry that is turning out new jobs at a fast pace,” Obama said. “That has the potential to hurt a lot of communities and set back America’s leadership in fighting climate change.”

He made veiled references to members of Congress who have been outspoken opponents of his energy policy, be it his push toward renewable energy installations or regulations aimed at coal-fired power plants.

He encouraged lawmakers to keep tax credits for wind and solar power on the books rather than letting them permanently lapse. Doing so, he said, would go against the choices of American consumers who are increasingly using renewable energy.

“It’s one thing if you’re consistent in being free market,” Obama said. “It’s another thing when you’re being free market until it’s solar that’s working and people want to buy, and suddenly you’re not for it anymore. That’s a problem.”

In his speech, Obama highlighted major companies like Wal-Mart and Google, which have embraced renewable energy, as well as utilities around the country that are moving in that direction.

He also plugged the growing — albeit still small — share of renewable energy in the American power sector, and highlighted administration steps to boost it even further.

“For decades we’ve been told that it doesn’t make economic sense to switch over to renewable energy,” he said. “Today that’s no longer true.”

Obama’s speech — and his confrontational tone toward the fossil fuel sector and it supporters — comes as he pushes to overhaul the American electricity sector, both by encouraging more renewable energy around the U.S. and instituting regulations to crack down on carbon emissions.

Earlier this month, Obama announced his climate rule for power plants, something that has triggered lawsuit threats from both state attorneys generals and energy producers. A Senate panel has passed a bill to block the rule, and congressional Republicans have grown increasingly hostile toward it.

Obama defended the climate rule on Monday, calling it the “single most important step Americans have ever taken to tackle climate change.” He vowed to spend the rest of his presidency pursuing ways to cut emissions from the American electricity sector by investing in solar, wind and other renewable energy sources.

“As long as I’m president the federal government is going to do its part, beyond the investments that we’ve already made, to promote this issue,” he said.

Obama’s speech comes hours after the White House announced a slate of executive actions to encourage more renewable energy. Those steps included a $1 billion loan guarantee fund for projects like rooftop solar and a program to help families improve energy efficiency at their homes.

Renewable energy boosters praised the steps, but some Republicans voiced their skepticism.

“Once again, the President is deceptively touting his administration’s agenda as necessary to expand affordable energy to more Americans,” House Natural Resources Committee chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said in a statement.

“This could not be further from the truth. The administration’s energy policies are leveling increased costs and decreased choices on all Americans and especially the most disadvantaged communities,” Bishop said.

The National Clean Energy Summit, a forum organized in part by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), drew Obama and a handful of administration officials to Las Vegas’s Mandalay Bay Casino on Monday.

Before the president’s speech, Reid said Obama “will forever be remembered as the leader who finally put the world on the path to stop climate change,” and he pledged to fight congressional efforts to undo his climate agenda.

Obama said that consumers and clean energy supporters should do the same.

“Folks whose interests and ideologies run counter to where we need to go, we’ve got to be able to politely but firmly say, sorry, we’re moving forward,” he said.