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President equates Republican clean-energy opponents to Flat Earth Society

March 15th, 2012 · 2 Comments

Today, President Obama game a speech (text and comments after the fold) on energy issues. The takeaway line when it comes to clean energy:

“If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail, they probably must have been founding members of the flat earth society. They would not believe that the world was round,” Obama told an enthusiastic crowd of hundreds of students at Prince George’s Community College in Largo. “Maybe they would have agreed with one of the pioneers of the radio who apparently said, ‘Television won’t last. It’s a flash in the pan.’ ”

Remarks of President Barack Obama On Energy and Gas Prices
Prince George’s County Community College
Largo, MD
March 15, 2012

Hello, everybody. Thank you, Roy, for that introduction. It’s great to be back in Maryland, and it’s great to be here at Prince George’s Community College. Now, since March Madness starts in about an hour, this is just a reminder to send your brackets in if you haven’t already. I’ll make sure to finish on time in case anyone’s cutting it close.

Come on, we all know where the President’s priorities lie, no? While George W Bush had a passion for baseball, I don’t think that anyone thought him ready to move into the announcer’s booth while President Obama does better in that role that many “professionals”.

Before I start, I want to thank your other president, Dr. Charlene Dukes, for hosting us today. Your governor, Martin O’Malley, is in the house. We’ve got Senator Ben Cardin, Congresswoman Donna Edwards, and County Executive Rushern Baker here. And finally, I want to thank all of you for coming out this morning.

Now, I just finished learning about some of the work you’re doing to make sure homes use less energy, and to help folks save money on their heating and air conditioning bills. I’m impressed. And I’m even more impressed because I know this program is giving a lot of people the chance to earn a decent living – everyone from veterans to folks with disabilities to folks who’ve been down on their luck. So I want you to know how proud I am of all of you.

Homestly, I think that it is great to have the President speaking a Community College and, well, specifically to how their studies are preparing them for careers helping others achieve more energy efficient lives.

The skills you learn here will be the surest path to success in this economy. Because if there’s one thing we’re thinking a lot about these days, it’s energy – how to use less and produce more right here in the United States of America. And with gas prices spiking all across the country, we’re getting another reminder of just how important that is right now.

If you’re interested, the White House has put up an extremely good infographic on gasoline and other energy issues.

If it feels like we’ve seen this movie before, that’s because we have. Gas prices went up around this time last year. They shot up in the spring and summer of 2008. This has been happening for years. And every time prices start to go up – especially in an election year – politicians dust off their three-point plans for $2 gasoline. They head down to the pump, make sure a few cameras are following them, and start acting like they can wave a magic wand and you’ll have cheap gas forever. Sound familiar?

Yes. Vote for Newt and have $25 (oops, $2.50) gallon gasoline!

Well here’s the thing: we know better. You know better. There’s no such thing as a quick fix when it comes to high gas prices. We know there’s no silver bullet. And anyone who tells you otherwise isn’t really looking for a solution – they’re probably just looking to ride the political wave of the moment.

While I would love to claim some responsibility for the language (e.g., I AM NOT), it is great to see the President using language that I (and so many others have used for years). There is NO SILVER BULLET!

Now, the most common thing we hear from these politicians is that if only we drilled for more oil here at home, gas prices would immediately come down and all our problems would go away.

Hear that “Drill, Baby, Drill” chant yet?

Well, Maryland, there are two problems with that.

Only two … actually far more … but let’s listen to the President.

First, we are drilling. Under my Administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That is a fact. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating oil rigs to a record high. That is also a fact. We’ve approved dozens of new pipelines to move oil across the country, and just announced our support for a new one in Oklahoma that will help get more oil down to our refineries on the Gulf Coast.

How many Americans realize that there are more drilling rigs in operation in the United States than anywhere else in the world?

Or, that there are more than there have ever been operating since we started keeping statistics decades ago?

No, it is a myth that President Obama has been anti-drilling … sadly, in fact, far too “pro drilling” in the face of our overall economic, energy and environmental challenges.

Over the last three years, my administration has opened millions of acres of land in 23 different states for oil and gas exploration. Offshore, I’ve directed my administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential resources. That includes an area in the Gulf of Mexico we opened up a few months ago that could produce more than 400 million barrels of oil.

Again, do we really want the Arctic open for drilling when it is so hard to deal with a spill in the far more benign Gulf of Mexico?

So don’t tell me we’re not drilling. We’re drilling all over this country, and you have my word that we will keep drilling everywhere we can while protecting the health and safety of the American people.

The American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Grand Oil Party don’t want you to realize just how much drilling is going on because it puts the lie to so much of their attack on President Obama.

Here’s the second problem with what some of these politicians are talking about. There’s a problem with a strategy that only relies on drilling and that is, America uses more than 20 percent of the world’s oil. If we drilled every square inch of this country — so we went to your house and we went to the National Mall and we put up those rigs everywhere — we’d still have only 2 percent of the world’s known oil reserves. Let’s say we miss something — maybe it’s 3 percent instead of 2. We’re using 20; we have 2.

Now, you don’t need to be getting an excellent education at Prince George’s Community College to know that we’ve got a math problem here. (Laughter and applause.) I help out Sasha occasionally with her math homework and I know that if you’ve got 2 and you’ve got 20, there’s a gap. (Laughter.) There’s a gap, right?

AUDIENCE: Yes!

THE PRESIDENT: Do we have anybody who’s good at math here? Am I right? (Applause.) Okay.

So if we don’t develop other sources of energy, if we don’t develop the technology to use less energy to make our economy more energy-efficient, then we will always be dependent on foreign countries for our energy needs. (Applause.)

Every time there’s instability in the Middle East, we’ll feel it at the pump. As rapidly-growing nations like China or India keep adding more cars to the road, the price of gas will rise.

And, the President added this to the speech:

We will not fully be in control of our energy future if our strategy is only to drill for the 2 percent but we still have to buy the 20 percent. And there’s another wrinkle to this — other countries use oil, too. We’re not the only ones. So you’ve got rapidly-growing nations like China and India, and they’re all starting to buy cars. They’re getting wealthier. They want cars, too. And that means the price of gas will rise.

Just to give you an example — in 2010, China alone added 10 million new cars. That’s just in one year. And there are about a billion Chinese. So they’ve got a lot more people who are going to want cars in the future, which means they are going to want to get some of that oil and that will drive prices up. So we can’t just drill our way out of the problem. We are drilling, but it’s not going to solve our problem.

While, sigh, the President (nor anyone in the Administration) just can’t see his way to saying “Peak Oil” but he is pointing to the basic supply / demand challenge and doing so in a pretty powerful way. In the face of Chinese demands for oil (and cash to back them up), the United States (and, thus, Americans) are going to be chasing an ever-higher price of gasoline (year-to-year). The only way off that reckless path …

That’s not the future I want for the United States of America. We can’t allow ourselves to be held hostage to events on the other side of the world. That’s not who we are. In this country, we control our own destiny. We chart our own course. An energy strategy for the last century is one that traps us in the past. What we need now is an all-of-the-above strategy for the 21st century that develops every source of American-made energy – not just oil and gas, but wind power and solar power; biofuels and fuel-efficient cars and trucks that get more miles to the gallon. That’s the future. That’s where I want to take this country.

That all of the above, most importantly but not mentioned (yet) includes efficiency … the increased CAFE standards will produce about 2.2 million “negabarrels” … per day … by 2025. That is the equivalent, if I recall correctly, of a 40 percent increase in U.S. crude oil production.

Thousands of Americans have jobs right now because we’ve doubled the use of clean energy in this country – and I want to keep making those investments. I don’t want to see wind turbines or solar panels or high-tech batteries made by other workers in other countries. I want them manufactured right here in the United States of America.

Basic point to remember: clean energy solutions create more job hours per energy output than fossil fuel systems.

After three decades of inaction, we raised fuel economy standards so that by the middle of the next decade, our cars will average nearly 55 miles per gallon – nearly double what they get today. That will save the average family more than $8,000 over the life of the car. That means you’ll be able to fill up every two weeks instead of every week. And those are exactly the kind of cars we need to keep building in America.

Doesn’t that $8000 sound great?

Sigh, yet again, the value stream from the CAFE standards is being understated. Remember that 2.2 million barrels per day (mbpd) and the supply/demand challenge? By reducing demand by 2.2 mbpd, the CAFE standards are creating an equivalent of new supply and by basic economics this will contribute to lower oil prices on 100% of the oil sold around the world. Thus, while the car driver will save at the tank every single person going to a gas station and every industrial process using oil will have less expensive bills for their oil demand.

To fuel these cars and trucks, we’re investing in clean, advanced biofuels that can replace some of the oil we currently use. Already, we’re using these biofuels to power everything from city buses to UPS trucks to Navy ships. I want to see more of these fuels in American cars so that we buy less oil from foreign countries and create jobs here at home.

Some rather knowledgeable people see the potential for millions of bpd of ‘drop-in’ alternative fuels by 2020 — at prices at or below the petroleum market prices.

All of these steps have put us on a path to greater energy independence. Since I took office, America’s dependence on foreign oil has gone down every single year. In 2010, our oil dependence was under 50% for the first time in thirteen years.

First off, “energy independence” is probably the wrong term. How about “energy resiliency”, where the US economy is not slave to others’ control of our economy via manipulation of oil prices and/or supply?

Secondly, again, how many people know that we’re doing better when it comes to oil imports? That oil production has increased under Barack Obama with (FAR) more drilling than during the W Bush era? And … again, go to that White House infographic linked above.

Now, we have to do better than that.

Yes. We Can!

And I know we can. But only if we tell the folks who are stuck in the past that our future depends on an all-of-the-above energy strategy. That’s our job.

Okay. While it would be much better if EFFICIENCY and paths to get off oil were dominating the discussion, there is much strength (and truth) in the President’s framing.

Lately, we’ve heard a lot of professional politicians talking down these new sources of energy. They dismiss wind power and solar power. They make jokes about biofuels and electric cars. They were against raising fuel standards because apparently they like gas guzzling cars better. We’re trying to move towards the future, and they want to keep us stuck in the past.

Dismissive of the future and desiring of the past.

And, now, for that money quote.

Of course, we’ve heard this kind of thinking before. If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail, they probably would have been founding members of the Flat Earth Society. Maybe they would have agreed with one of the pioneers of the radio who apparently said, “Television won’t last. It’s a flash in the pan.” Or one of Henry Ford’s advisors who was quoted saying, “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only…a fad.” I can’t prove this, but I do not think that man got the promotion he was looking for. They might have even sided with one of my predecessors, President Rutherford B. Hayes, who reportedly said this about the telephone: “It’s a great invention but who would ever want to use one?” I hear that quote kept him off Mt. Rushmore.

Have to say that I found the last line LOL quality. I’m sure the fact checkers are running out on that one and it will be great to see the speechwriters’ source.

The point is, there are always cynics and naysayers who want to do things the same way we’ve always done them. To double down on the same ideas that got us into this mess in the first place. But the only reason we’ve come this far as a nation is because we refuse to stand still. Because we put our faith in the future. Because we are inventors and builders and makers of things. We’re Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. That’s who we are. That’s who we need to be right now.

This sounds like the President will actual start defending scientists and scientific achievement in the face of Republican anti-science syndrome.

In any event, the Republicans look to Edison — and try not to look past them — in their dogged support for more expensive 18th century lightbulb technology against 21st century technology.

Now, the President added this line that was not in the prepared remarks:

I don’t understand when I hear folks who are in elected office, or aspiring to elected office, who ignore the facts and seem to just want to get a cute bumper sticker line, instead of actually trying to solve our problems. (Applause.) What I just said about energy, by the way, is not disputed by any energy expert. Everybody agrees with this. So why is it that somebody who wants to help lead the country would be ignoring the facts? (Applause.)

Yes, Mr. President! Let’s start talking about facts and truthful engagement and directly confront those who seek to confuse with truthiness and truthliness.

And if you want an example of exactly what I’m talking about, consider a very important issue before Congress right now . The question is whether or not we should keep giving $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies to the oil industry. They’ve been getting these subsidies for a hundred years. One hundred years. These are companies making more money right now than they’ve ever made before. And on top of the money they’re getting from you at the gas station, they want some of your tax dollars too.

End the subsidies!

But, as well, let’s talk about how we’re subsidizing fossil fuel use with our lungs, our children’s health, and the very potential for achieving a prosperous and secure future for America and Americans.

There is — in all the President’s rhetoric and not just here — a set of words notable absent: Global Warming and Climate Change. The political operatives view this as danger zone while the very absence of speaking about it undermines the public understanding of the issues.

That is outrageous. It’s inexcusable.

Yes, that is true both of the subsidies and the failure to talk about climate change.

And it’s time for this oil industry giveaway to end. So in the next few weeks, I expect Congress to vote on ending these subsidies. And when they do, we’re going to put every single Member of Congress on record: They can either stand up for oil companies, or they can stand up for the American people. They can either place their bets on a fossil fuel from the last century, or they can place their bets on America’s future –American workers, and American ingenuity, and the American-made energy we can produce right here in our own backyard. That’s the choice we face. That’s what’s at stake right now.

Time to add our voices …

Maryland, we know what direction we have to go in. We can let these politicians take us back to an energy strategy for the last century, or we can invest in a serious, sustained, all-of-the-above energy strategy that develops every resource available for the 21st century. That’s the choice we have – the past, or the future. And it’s a choice we have to make.

Actually, the President is being generous. They want to take us back to a 19th century focused energy strategy: producing fossil fuels for burning.

The real choice should be a future where those polluting fuels are an ever-smaller portion of our overall energy system.
You know where I stand. And I think most of you agree. Ending these subsidies

won’t bring down gas prices tomorrow. Nothing will. But if we’re tired of watching gas prices spike every year – if we want to bring them down for good – we need to look beyond the energy of the past and put ourselves on a path to a real, sustainable energy future.

A path? How about the Five Percent plan?

Note: we are unlikely to “bring gas prices down for good” — not if you consider Peak Oil to be something based in reality. Growing demand along with ever more expensive paths to supply mean that prices will go up … the question is how much. And, well, at some point we will put cancer-causing pollution and other “externality” costs into the actual transaction price of gasoline. And, well, perhaps we should actually fund the highway trust fund out of gasoline taxes rather than leave the number stuck with zero inflation adjustment. And …

That’s the future you deserve. So let’s make our voices heard. Get on the phone, write an email, send a letter, and let your Members of Congress know where you stand. Tell them to do the right thing. Tell them we’ve got the tools and the toughness to win this fight. And if we combine our creativity and our optimism – if we keep harnessing our brainpower and manpower and womanpower – then I promise you, we will come back stronger than before. We will create an economy that’s built to last. And we will make this century another American century.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

Note: above is a mix of the “as prepared” and the “as delivered” version (with some paragraphs from second added to the first). I have not yet had time to fully compare the two versions to see if the President cut anything important and make sure that I caught all that he added.

Tags: 2012 Presidential Election · Energy · Obama Administration · President Barack Obama · oil · peak oil

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