WASHINGTON – Sen. Barack Obama accused the Bush administration Monday of a "stubborn refusal" to attack the causes of climate change, and said tougher fuel standards, stricter curbs on oil imports and more investment in cleaner energy are essential to avert global catastrophe.
"Saying that America is addicted to oil without following a real plan for energy independence is like admitting alcoholism and then skipping out on the 12-step program," the Illinois Democrat said. He referred to one of the principal themes of President Bush's State of the Union address Jan. 31.
"It's not enough to identify the challenge. We have to meet it," Obama said in remarks prepared for the annual luncheon of The Associated Press, held on the opening day of the Newspaper Association of America's convention.
Obama said 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," Obama said.
He said 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 percent a year over the next 15 years, beginning in 2008, Obama said.
The use of corn-based ethanol in fuel should be encouraged, he said, 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.
Obama had nothing but criticism for Bush's efforts on the issue.
"When it comes to finding a way to end our dependence on fossil fuels, the greatest vacuum in leadership, the biggest failure in imagination and the most stubborn refusal to admit the need for change is coming from the very people who are running the country," he said.
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."