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Obama's emphasis on alternative energy comes with political risks amid calls for gas price relief

 

The gap between President Obama and many Republicans over energy policy approaches Grand Canyon dimensions.

President Obama makes no secret of his views, referring to oil as "yesterday's" energy and making clear his goal is to wean us off fossil fuels in favor of alternative forms of energy:

"We need to invest in the technology that will help us use less oil in our cars and our trucks, in our buildings, in our factories," he said this week. "That's the only solution to the challenge."

His emphasis is alternatives to oil more than increasing oil supply. Alternatives are expensive, though, and the only way to make them price competitive is to do what Steven Chu suggested just before he became energy secretary.

Chu told the Wall Street Journal in 2008, "Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe." At the time he said that, the Europeans were paying the equivalent of $8 to $10 a gallon.

Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R-Miss., recently criticized that statement, calling higher prices "a cruel tax," as he asked Chu what the administration is doing about prices:

"But is the overall goal to get our price --" Nunnelee started to ask before Chu jumped in.

"No," Chu said, "the overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil to -- to build and strengthen our economy and to decrease our dependency on oil."

Ken Green of American Enterprise Institute, a center-right think tank, said, "Dr. Chu is walking a very fine line trying ... to not say we want higher prices, when they really do want higher prices."

The problem is that most alternatives to oil aren't affordable for most Americans.

Some administration supporters say something has to be done. Dan Weiss of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress said, "invest in alternatives to oil, like electric passenger vehicles, natural gas trucks, and invest in transportation options that can help get people out of cars."

Or into electric vehicles, such as the Chevy Volt. They save gas but cost more than $40,000 each. Chevrolet has temporarily halted production of the Volt, because of slow sales.

But those favoring alternatives say we should be patient -- that every advanced technology starts out expensive and clunky and gets better.

"Remember the original cell phone?" said Weiss. "It was the size of a shoe and now they can fit in half the palm of your hand. Technological innovation takes time."

Critics, however, say the president has lost sight of the current problem.

"Everybody in America is screaming for lower gasoline prices, and he's talking about, well, we need to get on to something else. It may be more expensive. That doesn't seem to bother him," said David Kreutzer of the Heritage Foundation.

Jim Angle currently serves as chief national correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined FNC in 1996 as a senior White House correspondent.