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Published: Thursday, 3/22/2012

Obama touts alternative energy in Ohio visit

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
President Barack Obama starts the traditional O-H-I-O cheer after speaking at The Ohio State University in Columbus. President Barack Obama starts the traditional O-H-I-O cheer after speaking at The Ohio State University in Columbus.
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COLUMBUS — With spiking gas prices potentially endangering a tenuous economic recovery as well as his own re-election chances, President Barack Obama Thursday lashed out at his Republican critics and challenged the notion that more drilling is the answer.

“A strategy that relies only on drilling defies the fact that America uses 20 percent of the world’s oil but we only have 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves….Who’s the math major here?” Mr. Obama asked several thousand gathered on the campus of Ohio State University.

“…We can’t simply drill our way out of the problem…,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to pay more at the pump every time there is instability in the Middle East …We should not be held hostage to events on the other side of the world.”

At the conclusion of a two-day, four-state tour, the President highlighted what he has characterized as an “all of the above” approach — more drilling for oil and natural gas; alternative energy like wind, solar, and biofuels; the next generation of nuclear power; and stricter fuel efficiency standards for vehicles.

Before his remarks in Columbus, he toured Ohio State’s Center for Automotive Research, funded by federal and state Third Frontier dollars as well as the auto industry. The center, among other things, is studying fuel efficiency, battery power, and alternative fuels.

He viewed the Venturi Buckeye Bullet 2.5, an Ohio State vehicle that set the speed record in 2011 for a battery-powered vehicle, more than 307 mph. He noted that the next generation of the vehicle is shooting for 400 mph.

“I asked the guys who helped design it whether mom would let them test drive it,” he said. “The answer was no…”

The President launched his tour Wednesday with visits to a Nevada solar field to focus on renewable energy investment and oil and gas fields on federal land in New Mexico to emphasize that responsible exploration and drilling has increased on his watch.

He started Thursday in Oklahoma where he vowed to clear the bureaucratic red tape to accelerate completion of a new pipeline in development to carry oil from the state to the Gulf of Mexico.

Although his focus was, in part, on his administration’s higher fuel efficiency demands on automakers, his visit coincided with the afternoon rush hour, leaving some motorists idling their engines while the motorcade transported him back and forth to Rickenbacker International Airport.

The official White House, taxpayer-funded tour came at a time when the President is under fire by GOP candidates who point to his since-lifted moratorium on off-shore drilling after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf and the fact that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge remains off limits to drilling.

They’ve blasted his decision to send the 1,700-mile Keystone XL Pipeline, designed to carry Canadian oil to the Gulf, back to the drawing board because of its proposed route through environmentally sensitive lands in Nebraska. The Oklahoma pipeline that Mr. Obama championed earlier Thursday could serve as the southern leg of that proposed pipeline.

His administration has also taken heat for lending $535 million to Solyndra Inc., a California solar-panel manufacturer that later failed and became the poster child of GOP arguments against government trying to pick winners and losers in energy research.

Gas prices that are hovering around $4 a gallon in Ohio have stepped on what have otherwise been a series of largely positive reports on the economic and job growth fronts. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, in particular, has launched a 30-minute TV ad for his presidential campaign in which he says he has a plan to lower prices to about $2.50 a gallon.

“How do we make sure these spikes in gas prices don’t keep on happening, because we’ve seen this movie before...?” Mr. Obama asked. “Politicians, they start dusting off their three-point plans for $2 gas, although this year they decided it was going to $2.50…Now, I don’t know where they picked that number… but they all make the same promises.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, a Columbus Republican, said he welcomed Mr. Obama to Ohio State where, in addition to automotive and alternative energy research, the university is studying cleaner-coal and shale oil technology.

“This administration has had a war on coal,” he said. “If you’re going to have an all-of-the-above policy, you have to focus on coal.”

Mr. Obama never mentioned coal Thursday, despite the fact that Ohio generates the bulk of its electricity by burning it.

Mr. Stivers also argued that the gains in domestic oil drilling that Mr. Obama pointed to is due primarily to permit decisions made by the preceding Republican administration of George W. Bush.

Thursday’s visit to battleground Ohio was the 19th that Mr. Obama has made to Ohio since becoming president, his third so far this election year, and the second in little more than a week. Last week he brought British Prime Minister David Cameron to Dayton to watch the First Four of the college basketball tournament. He noted that Ohio made history by placing four teams, including Ohio State, in the Sweet Sixteen.

“I did have the Buckeyes headed in the final four…,” he said to cheers from the Ohio State crowd. “I promise you I didn’t do it because I knew I was coming here, because I’m cold-blooded when it comes to filling out my brackets.”

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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