President Obama traveled to Pennsylvania Wednesday - a state once renowned for its steel industry - to tout his clean energy policy.
"This is the future of American energy," the president said at a Gamesa Technology Corporation plant in Fair Hills, where wind turbines are manufactured. "What you do here is a glimpse of the future and it's a future where America is less dependent on foreign oil, more reliant on clean energy, produced by workers like you," said Mr. Obama Just a week ago, in what the White House called a deliberate pivot from the turmoil in the Middle East, the president shifted focus to energy security, announcing his intention to reduce in the next decade the amount of oil imported to the US by one third, and to double the amount of electricity produced by renewable sources, like wind and solar, by 2035.But with the cost of oil at about $108 a barrel, and the cost of a gallon of gas hovering around $3.70, many say the president's green goals are too far off in the future for those feeling the pinch today. It's a point the president acknowledged Wednesday in the town-hall style event.
"There is no magic formula to driving gas prices down," the president conceded. "It's a steady improvement in terms of how we use energy and where we get energy from, that's what's going to make a difference, that's how we're going to secure our energy future," argued Obama.
But there are those in his own party who say the president is underestimating the importance of an already established industry.
"I don't think the president's position on oil and gas is as strong as it should be," said Democratic Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu. "Oil and gas is an important industry in the United States today and it will be in the next decades, in the foreseeable future."
"There is nothing wrong with oil, " Mr. Obama acknowledged Wednesday. "But when you only have 2-3 percent of the world's oil reserves, why wouldn't you want to develop alternative sources of energy that are cleaner and more efficient and that produce manufacturing jobs?"
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill pushed back charging the president hasn't done all he can to protect energy jobs that existed just a year ago. "It's time for the President to face the people who remain unemployed because of his decision to shut down oil and gas development in the Gulf of Mexico," said Republican Senator John Barrasso of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "Any conversation about the economy should include a frank discussion about how his policies have made it harder for many Americans in the energy sector to find and keep their jobs."
Although the president has held numerous town-hall events over his two-plus years in office, Wednesday's had a bit of a campaign feel to it as the president reminisced about the last time he'd been in Fair Hills, as a candidate, and promised at that time to keep Pennsylvania workers on his mind if he became president.
"I have kept that promise, I'm thinking about you guys every single day I'm at the White House. And I'm going to keep pushing, and I'm going to keep fighting, for you," he said.
But others say perhaps the president isn't fighting for the right people, in the right manner. The administration's choice of Gemesa, a Spanish owned company which employs 800 workers in Pennsylvania as the backdrop for his remarks, was criticized by some who argue an American owned green company would have been a better choice.
"It just demonstrated lack of sensitivity," said Howard Makler, president of WePower in California. "Plenty of us are American-owned and are trying very hard to grow our business. Lots of foreign companies are employing Americans and that's marvelous. But if you are going to visit, why not visit a company that is owned by Americans?"
The White House says it selected Gamesa because it is not only the first wind manufacturer in the United States, but for its location as well. Situated on a former Brownfield property that housed a coke production plant, steel making, finishing and forging operation, Gemesa took advantage of tax incentives set by the state to encourage development of new industry in the area, which experienced the loss of over 5,000 steels jobs in the 80s and 90s. Using the acreage along with the Spanish wind turbine company is a solar panel producer that opened in the fall of last year.
"This company brought jobs back to these floors," praised Obama. "Buildings that were dark, they're now humming again."
The president recognized that the number of jobs created by the new green industry pale in comparison to those in the heyday of the steel industry. "It may take 10 workers to produce what it used to take 100 workers to produce because of automation and new technologies," said the president.