Obama announces “hard choices” energy plan balancing renewable & traditional sources

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, March 31 – In a 14-minute speech Wednesday morning at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, DC, President Obama defended administration plans to pursue the development of renewable fuels aggressively but also increase oil drilling and nuclear power development. Obama praised Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for his “pragmatic” approach which includes not only developing renewable energy sources but also “responsibly developing traditional sources of energy.”

Even before the President outlined the administration’s overall energy objectives, the Renewable Fuels Association voiced its concerns. RFA President Bob Dinneen warned that “Relying on 20th century energy sources to address 21st century challenges will not solve the problem. America’s energy policy must be focused on renewable sources that have great potential for innovation and improvement. Renewable fuels, such as ethanol produced from a variety of feedstocks, hold great promise to reduce our need for imported oil, address climate change concerns, and create enduring economic opportunity. Oil and other fossil fuels are finite resources. While we cannot ignore their contributions, neither can we ignore the reality that reliance on them is simply unsustainable.”

Acknowledging the concerns raised by Dinneen and other renewable energy advocates, Obama said in his energy speech that his administration will face criticism from both the renewable fuels industry and the petroleum industry for making short-term “tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.” But he insisted that “given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth, produce jobs, and keep our businesses competitive, we’re going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy.”

One the one hand, Obama said, “There will be those who strongly disagree with this decision, including those who say we should not open any new areas to drilling. But what I want to emphasize is that this announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy.” He added that “On the other side, there will be those who argue that we do not go nearly far enough; who suggest we open all of our waters to energy exploration without any restriction or regard for the broader environmental and economic impact. They’d deny the fact that with less than two percent of oil reserves, but more than 20 percent of world consumption, drilling alone cannot come close to meeting our long-term energy needs, and that for the sake of the planet and our energy independence, we need to begin the transition to cleaner fuels now.”

To deal with the energy challenge, Obama said that “we need to move beyond the tired debates between right and left, between business leaders and environmentalists, between those who would claim drilling is a cure all and those who would claim it has no place.  Because this issue is just too important to allow our progress to languish while we fight the same old battles over and over again.”

As an example of the need for change – and an example of substantial progress already achieved – Obama pointed to the surrounding military aircraft and vehicles. Citing U.S. Air Force, Army, Marine and Navy testing using biofuels, he said “the Pentagon isn’t seeking these alternative fuels just to protect our environment. They are pursuing these homegrown energy sources to protect our national security.”

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