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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Obama in Miami: 'We can't just drill our way to lower gas prices'

23

February

President Barack Obama was supposed to talk about his plans for the economy today in Miami. Instead, he focuses on high gas prices, a growing political issue that threatens the improving economic picture (and his re-election hopes). Obama tries to paint Republicans as opportunists.

"Now, some politicians always see this as a political opportunity. You’re shocked, I know," Obama says in prepared remarks. "Last week, the lead of one news story said, “Gasoline prices are on the rise, and Republicans are licking their chops.” Only in politics do people greet bad news so enthusiastically. You pay more, and they’re licking their chops? And you can bet that since it’s an election year, they’re already dusting off their three-point plans for $2 gas. I’ll save you the suspense: Step one is drill, step two is drill, and step three is keep drilling.  We heard the same thing in 2007, when I was running for President. We hear the same thing every year.  We’ve heard the same thing for thirty years.

"Well the American people aren’t stupid. You know that’s not a plan – especially since we’re already drilling. It’s a bumper sticker. It’s not a strategy to solve our energy challenge. It’s a strategy to get politicians through an election. You know there are no quick fixes to this problem, and you know we can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices."

The full speech, as prepared for delivery, is below:

Hello, Miami!  Thank you, Erica, for that introduction.  I also want to thank your president, and this country’s former Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala.  I want to thank Senator Bill Nelson for being here.  And I want to thank your Congresswoman, my friend Debbie Wasserman Schultz for joining us today.

It is great to be back in sunny Florida.  I still don’t know how you all make it to class every day down here.  In another life, I’d stay in Orlando for the NBA All-Star weekend, but these days I have a few other things on my plate.

I just got a fascinating demonstration of the work that some of you are doing at the College of Engineering.  I understood about 10% of it, but it looked impressive.  And the work couldn’t be more important:  figuring out how our buildings can waste less energy is one of the fastest, easiest ways to reduce our dependence on oil and save a lot of money in the process.

That’s what I’m here to talk about today.  In the State of the Union, I laid out three areas we need to focus on if we want to build an economy that lasts:  new American manufacturing, new skills and education for American workers, and new sources of American-made energy.

Right now, we’re experiencing yet another painful reminder of why developing new energy is so critical to our future.  Just like last year, gas prices are climbing across the country – except this time, even earlier.  And that hurts everyone – everyone who owns a car; everyone who owns a business.  It means you have to stretch your paycheck even further.  It means you have to find even more room in a budget that was already too tight.  Some folks have no choice but to drive a long way to work, and high gas prices are like a tax straight out of their paychecks.

Now, some politicians always see this as a political opportunity.  You’re shocked, I know.  Last week, the lead of one news story said, “Gasoline prices are on the rise, and Republicans are licking their chops.”  Only in politics do people greet bad news so enthusiastically.  You pay more, and they’re licking their chops?  And you can bet that since it’s an election year, they’re already dusting off their three-point plans for $2 gas.  I’ll save you the suspense:  Step one is drill, step two is drill, and step three is keep drilling.  We heard the same thing in 2007, when I was running for President.  We hear the same thing every year.  We’ve heard the same thing for thirty years.

Well the American people aren’t stupid.  You know that’s not a plan – especially since we’re already drilling.  It’s a bumper sticker.  It’s not a strategy to solve our energy challenge.  It’s a strategy to get politicians through an election.  You know there are no quick fixes to this problem, and you know we can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices.  If we’re going to take control of our energy future; if we’re going to avoid these gas price spikes down the line, then we need a sustained, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy – oil, gas, wind, solar, nuclear, biofuels, and more.  We need to keep developing the technology that allows us to use less oil in our cars and trucks; in our buildings and plants.  That’s the strategy we’re pursuing, and that’s the only real solution to this challenge.

Now, we absolutely need safe, responsible oil production here in America.  That’s why under my Administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years.  That’s why we have a record number of oil rigs operating right now – more working oil and gas rigs than the rest of the world combined.  Over the last three years, my administration has approved dozens of new pipelines, including from Canada.  And we’ve opened millions of acres for oil and gas exploration.  All told, we plan to make available more than 75% of our potential offshore oil and gas resources, from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico.  Last week, we announced the next steps toward further energy exploration in the Arctic.  And earlier this week, we joined Mexico in an agreement that will make more than 1.5 million acres in the Gulf available for exploration and production, which contains an estimated 172 million barrels of oil and 304 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

So we’re focused on production.  But here’s the thing – that’s not enough.  The amount of oil we drill at home doesn’t set the price of gas on its own.  That’s because oil is bought and sold in a world market.  And just like last year, the biggest thing that’s causing the price of oil to rise right now is instability in the Middle East – this time in Iran.  When uncertainty increases, speculative trading on Wall Street can drive up prices even more.  So there are short-term factors at work here.

But over the long-term, the biggest reason oil prices will rise is growing demand in countries like China, India, and Brazil.  Just think – in five years, the number of cars on the road in China more than tripled.  Nearly 10 million were added in 2010 alone.  Ten million cars in one year – think about how much oil that requires.  And those numbers will only get bigger over time.

So what does this mean for America?  It means that anyone who tells you we can drill our way out of this problem doesn’t know what they’re talking about – or isn’t telling you the truth.  The United States consumes more than a fifth of the world’s oil.  But we only have 2% of the world’s oil reserves.  That means we can’t just rely on fossil fuels from the last century.  We can’t just allow ourselves to be held hostage by the ups and downs of the world oil market.  We have to keep developing new sources of energy.  We have to keep developing new technology that helps us use less energy.  We have to keep relying on the American know-how and ingenuity that comes from places like the University of Miami.  That’s our future.  And that’s exactly the path we’ve been taking these last three years.

We’re making progress on this front.  In 2010, our dependence on foreign oil was under 50% for the first time in thirty years.  In 2011, the United States relied less on foreign oil than in any of the last sixteen years.  Because of the investments we’ve made, the use of clean, renewable energy in this country has nearly doubled – and thousands of Americans have jobs because of it.  We’re taking every possible action to safely develop a near hundred-year supply of natural gas – something that experts believe will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade.  We’ve supported the first new nuclear power plant in three decades.  Our cooperation with the private sector has positioned this country to be the world’s leading manufacturer of high-tech batteries that will power the next generation of American cars.  And after three decades of inaction, we put in place the toughest fuel economy standards in history for our cars and pickup trucks – and the first standards ever for heavy-duty trucks.

Because we did this, our cars will average nearly 55 miles per gallon by the middle of the next decade – nearly double what they get today.  That means you’ll be able to fill up your car every two weeks instead of every week – something that, over time, will save the typical family more than $8,000 at the pump.  And it means this country will reduce our oil consumption by more than 2 million barrels a day.

But now we have to do more.  Now we have to act even faster.  We have to keep investing in the development of every available source of American-made energy.  And this is a question of where our priorities lie.  This is a choice that we face.

First, while there are no short-term silver bullets when it comes to gas prices, I’ve directed my administration to look for every single area where we can make an impact and help consumers in the months ahead, from permitting to delivery bottlenecks to what’s going on in the oil markets.  And we will keep taking as many steps as we can in the coming weeks.

But over the long term, an all-of-the-above energy strategy requires the right incentives.  Right now, four billion of your tax dollars subsidize the oil industry every year.  Four billion dollars.  These are the same oil companies that have been making record profits off the money you spend at the pump.  And now they deserve another four billion dollars from us?

It’s outrageous.  It’s inexcusable.  And every politician who’s been fighting to keep these subsidies in place should explain to the American people why the oil industry needs more of their money.  Especially at a time like this.

A century of subsidies to the oil companies is long enough.  It’s time to end taxpayer giveaways to an industry that’s never been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that’s never been more promising.  This Congress needs to renew the clean energy tax credits that will lead to more jobs and less dependence on foreign oil.

The potential of a sustained, all-of-the-above energy strategy is all around us.  In 2008, Miami became the first major American city to power its city hall entirely with solar and renewable energy.  The modernization of your power grid so that it wastes less energy is one of the largest projects of its kind.  On a typical day, the wind turbine at the Miami-Dade Museum can meet about 10% of the energy needs in a South Florida home, and the largest wind producer in the country is over at Juno Beach.  Right here at this university, your work is helping manufacturers save millions of dollars in energy bills by making their facilities more efficient.

The role of the federal government isn’t to supplant this work or direct this research.  It’s to support these discoveries.  It’s to help businesses get new energy ideas off the ground.  After all, it was public research dollars, over the course of thirty years, which helped develop the technologies that companies are now using to extract all this natural gas out of shale rock.

The payoffs on these public investments don’t always come right away.  Some technologies don’t pan out; some companies will fail.  But as long as I’m President, I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy.  I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because some politicians in Washington refused to make the same commitment here in America.  With or without this Congress, I’ll continue to do whatever I can to develop every source of American energy, so that our future isn’t controlled by events on the other side of the world.

Today, we’re taking a step that will make it easier for companies to save money by investing in energy solutions that have been proven here at the University of Miami – new lighting systems; advanced heating and cooling systems that can lower a company’s energy bills and make them more competitive.  We’re launching a program that will bring together the nation’s best scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to figure out how more cars can be powered by natural gas – a fuel that’s cleaner, cheaper, and more abundant than oil.  And we’re making new investments in the development of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel that’s actually made from a plant-like substance known as algae.  Believe it or not, we could replace up to 17% of the oil we import for transportation with this fuel that we can grow right here in America.  That means greater security.  That means lower costs.  That means more jobs.

None of these steps I’ve talked about today represent the silver bullet that will bring down gas prices tomorrow, or reduce our dependence on foreign oil overnight.  And that’s because there is no silver bullet.  There never has been.

But while we don’t have a silver bullet, what we do have in this country are limitless sources of energy, and a boundless supply of ingenuity and imagination that we can put to work developing that energy.

It’s the easiest thing in the world make phony election-year promises about lower gas prices.  What’s harder is to make a serious, sustained commitment to tackle a problem that may not be solved in one year or one term or even one decade.  But that’s the kind of commitment we need right now.  That’s what this moment requires.

So we need all of you to keep at it.  We need you to work hard.  We need you to dream big.  We need you to summon the same spirit of unbridled optimism, that bold willingness to tackle tough problems that led previous generations to meet the challenges of their time – to power a nation from coast to coast, to touch the moon, to connect the entire world with our own science and imagination.

That’s what America is capable of.  And it is that very history that teaches us that all of our challenges – all of them – are within our power to solve.

So is this one.  Solving it will take time and effort.  It will require our brightest scientists, our most creative companies, and most importantly, all of us – Democrats, Republicans, and everyone in between – to do our part.  But I know it’s within our reach.  I know we can do it.  And when we do, we will remind the world once more why the United States of America is the greatest nation on Earth.  Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

[Last modified: Thursday, February 23, 2012 2:26pm]

    

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