Obama calls for more renewable energy during Ohio visit

By Jackie Borchardt

Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS — As gas prices near $4 a gallon in Ohio, President Barack Obama used his second trip to Ohio in 10 days to call for less reliance on oil and more clean and renewable energy options to fulfill the nation’s needs.

Obama challenged presidential candidates who promise lower gas prices with increased drilling, saying better alternative fuels and more fuel-efficient cars reduce American reliance on foreign oil.

“We can’t simply drill our way out of the problem,” Obama said before a crowd of about 2,600 at the Ohio State University’s Recreation and Physical Activity Center.

“Even if we drilled every square inch of this country right now, we’re going to be relying on other countries for oil.”

The president’s stop in Columbus was the last in a four-state, two-day tour touting his administration’s “all of the above” energy plan, which encourages renewable energy while also expanding oil and gas development. Earlier this week, Obama praised solar energy at a Nevada plant, visited oil rigs in New Mexico and announced his support to build the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline in Oklahoma.

Republicans have criticized the effort as weak. GOP chairman Reince Priebus called Obama’s energy strategy “a complete disaster” in a statement released before the president’s speech.

“As families and small businesses struggle because of rising gas prices, Barack Obama and his administration are nowhere to be found,” Priebus wrote.

Obama said his plan looks forward while his Republican presidential opponents prefer to subsidize oil companies like they did 100 years ago.

“I will not accept an energy strategy that traps us in the past,” Obama said. “Yes, we’ll develop as much oil and gas as we can, in a safe way, but we’re also going to develop wind power and solar power and advanced biofuels.”

Obama said U.S. production of oil has increased while imports of foreign oil have decreased since he took office. The White House says reliance on foreign oil is now lower than 50 percent and lower than any year under President George W. Bush.

Republicans said that dependence has declined because of a healthy drilling industry. It takes several years for energy productions to get online once they start drilling, U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Columbus, told reporters Thursday.

“You can’t be just for drilling again in an election year — you have to be for it every year,” Stivers said.

During his brief visit, Obama toured OSU’s Center for Automotive Research, which studies fuel consumption, alternative fuel systems and vehicle safety among other issues. The school received nearly $1 million from the Energy Department last year and houses the Buckeye Bullet, the fastest electric car in the world.

Obama’s Ohio visit was not billed as a campaign stop, but he managed to hint at November’s election, repeating his 2008 motto, “Yes, we can,” to cheers and chants of “Four more years.”

Earlier in the day, Obama said his administration would fast-track permits submitted by TransCanada Corporation to construct the southern leg of the controversial Keystone pipeline from Oklahoma to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. Obama delayed both legs of the project amid Republican efforts to push the project and objections from environmental groups.

The announcement didn’t staunch criticism from Republicans. Stivers said it was ironic that Obama was touting the benefits of completing part of the pipeline, which would relieve a bottleneck of oil from the Plains states, but provide no link to the abundant tar sand reserves in Alberta. Environmentalists have opposed the entire pipeline project, saying it would result in “dirty oil” being transported to the Gulf.

Stivers said building half the pipeline won’t bring in oil from Canada, “which is a secure trading partner that agrees with us on most foreign policies.”

Obama’s “all of the above” energy plan ignores research about clean coal and nuclear energy being conducted in Ohio, according to Stivers.

“Unfortunately, this administration has had a war on coal, and if you’re going to have an all-of-the-above energy policy, you need to focus on all of the above,” Stivers said. “That includes things like clean coal. And Ohio and, in fact, America, are the Saudi Arabia of coal.”

Contact this reporter at (614) 224-1608 or jborchardt@