political notebook

Energy efficiency sexy? Obama thinks so

President Obama spoke with a laborers, business people, and others at a Home Depot in Alexandria, Va. He said more jobs could be created through energy-efficiency programs. President Obama spoke with a laborers, business people, and others at a Home Depot in Alexandria, Va. He said more jobs could be created through energy-efficiency programs. (Ron Sachs/Getty Images)
December 16, 2009

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WASHINGTON - Insisting insulation is “sexy,’’ President Obama called yesterday for new federal incentives to make millions of homes more energy-efficient as a way to create jobs for the unemployed, save money for homeowners, and reduce pollution.

Speaking at a suburban Virginia Home Depot store cleared of shoppers, Obama said he wants Congress to provide temporary incentives to encourage consumers to rush out and buy such items as insulation, new windows and doors, and caulk leaks where they live.

Obama said homes and offices are responsible for 40 percent of US energy consumption, and that homes built in the first half of the last century can use about 50 percent more energy than modern dwellings.

“The simple act of retrofitting these buildings to make them more energy-efficient - installing new windows and doors, insulation, roofing, sealing leaks, modernizing heating and cooling equipment - is one of the fastest, easiest, and cheapest things we can do to put Americans back to work while saving families money and reducing harmful emissions,’’ Obama said, standing in front of a water heater and bales of insulation.

It was the fourth time in less than two weeks that Obama has staged a high-profile event to call attention to his efforts to curb unemployment, which dropped slightly to 10 percent in November.

He called last week for a series of steps to spur job creation - small-business tax cuts, new money for roads and bridges, and tax breaks for home energy-efficiency projects. The administration hasn’t put a price tag on the plan, but lawmakers have said it could cost more than $150 billion. Obama has suggested using money left over from the $700 billion financial industry bailout to pay for the initiatives.

The White House hopes a home energy-efficiency program will be as appealing to consumers as the now-expired Cash for Clunkers effort, which accelerated auto sales by offering rebates to people who traded in used vehicles for more fuel-efficient ones.

At a jobs forum this month, Obama told Frank Blake, Home Depot’s chairman and chief executive, that home improvement companies would be key partners in this program. Blake was among a group of business leaders who later met privately with Obama at the White House.

Obama said he disagreed with those who think energy efficiency isn’t glamorous.

“Here’s what’s sexy about it: saving money,’’ he said at the Alexandria, Va., store. He spoke to about 40 people representing small businesses, laborers, contractors, community members, environmental groups, and some workers being trained to weatherize homes. Several members of Congress also attended, and some donned orange aprons over their suit jackets.

Environmental groups applauded the president’s effort.

Maggie L. Fox, president of the Alliance for Climate Protection, said such an investment would be a “significant down payment on the creation of a new weatherization industry right here at home.’’ Obama says jobs such as installing windows in homes cannot be moved overseas.

About $8 billion of the $787 billion economic stimulus bill is dedicated to energy-saving investments in homes.

-- Associated Press

President writes letter to N. Korean leader

WASHINGTON - President Obama has written a personal letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, which was delivered by the administration’s special envoy for North Korea during a visit last week in Pyongyang.

The existence of the letter has been closely held, with the administration insisting to its partners in disarmament talks with North Korea that it not be publicly discussed. State Department and White House officials this week confirmed that envoy Stephen Bosworth brought a letter from Obama for Kim but declined to describe its contents.

Bosworth artfully misled reporters in Seoul last week about the letter when he left North Korea. Asked whether he had brought a letter, Bosworth sidestepped the question and said, “As for a message to the North Koreans from President Obama, in effect, I am the message.’’ Reporters in Asia then reported he had denied he had carried a letter.

It is relatively unusual for an American president to send the North Korean dictator a personal communication so early in his term. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush eventually sent letters to Kim, but only after extensive diplomatic efforts to restrain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Efforts early in Bush’s term to send a letter, in fact, were stymied by a debate over whether to use an honorific such as “His Excellency’’ to address Kim.

The Obama administration has insisted that North Korea return to six-nation talks on its nuclear program, saying it will not lift sanctions for North Korea to begin talking again. North Korea has not committed yet to return to the talks, but its propaganda organ, the Korean Central News Agency, has reported positively on Bosworth’s visit, which could reflect the impact of Obama’s personal missive.

-- Washington Post