Obama makes Earth Day push for new energy

In Iowa, he stumps for wind projects

By Philip Elliott and Mike Glover
Associated Press / April 23, 2009
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NEWTON, Iowa - Pitching his energy plan on Earth Day, President Obama yesterday called for a "new era of energy exploration in America" and argued that his proposal would help the economy and the environment at once.

"The choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy - it's a choice between prosperity and decline," Obama said in his first postelection trip to Iowa, the state that launched him toward the White House. "The nation that leads the world in creating new sources of clean energy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy."

But Obama's promise of preserving natural resources and jump-starting the economy ran smack into the reality of this economically struggling town of about 16,000 about 30 miles east of Des Moines.

The wind energy plant where he spoke, and received a tour beforehand, is a shadow of what it replaced - a Maytag Corp. appliances plant that built washers, dryers, and refrigerators and employed about 4,000 in jobs that paid about $30,000 to $40,000 a year.

Trinity Structural Towers has roughly 90 people working at the old Maytag site, a number that is expected to grow to about 140. Mark Stiles, a senior vice president at Trinity, which builds the towers that support wind turbines, said workers at his factory make a comparable salary, about $17 an hour plus benefits. "This is a piece of the recovery, but we think it's a nice piece," Stiles said.

The president announced his administration is creating the nation's first program to authorize offshore projects to generate electricity from wind turbines, ocean currents, and waves. Afterward, the Interior Department issued long-awaited regulations governing offshore renewable energy projects that establish how leases will be issued and sets in place revenue sharing with nearby coastal states, which would receive 27.5 percent of the royalties generated from electricity production.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said applications are expected for dozens of proposed offshore wind projects, many off the north and central Atlantic Coast in the coming months, and that he expects the first electricity production from some of the offshore projects in two or three years.

"This will open the gates for them to move forward. . . . It sets the rules of the road," Salazar said.

Obama said that wind could generate as much as 20 percent of US electricity demand by 2030 if its full potential is pursued on land and offshore. It would also create as many as 250,000 jobs, he said. "As with so many clean-energy investments, it's win-win: good for environment and great for our economy," the president said.

But wind-produced electricity totals just under 2 percent of all electricity generated, according to the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group.

Obama was in Iowa, which ranks second only to Texas in installed wind capacity, as his energy plan slowed on Capitol Hill. His blueprint is designed to reduce greenhouse gases by 20 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2020, and by 83 percent by mid-century. It calls for measures aimed at reducing the use of fossil fuels, such as requiring utilities to produce a quarter of their electricity from renewable sources.

But skeptical Republicans and some Democrats from coal-producing states complain that it will increase costs for consumers, send jobs overseas, and hurt businesses.

Yesterday, in the second of four days of hearings on House Democrats' version of climate change legislation, top Obama advisers called it a "jobs bill" and an investment in clean energy technology, broadly endorsing the draft but cautioning that the White House will work to fine tune the legislation in coming weeks.

"Three important players in this issue that represent the president believe the principles that are laid out in this bill are very strong principles - and principles that the president and his team can work with as the bill is worked through Congress," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who was joined by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Energy Secretary Steven Chu at the House hearing.

GOP lawmakers, however, called the draft bill a massive energy tax because it would put a price on carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels.

"The proposal for cap and tax will raise the energy rates for producing everything in the United States of America," said Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican. "If we dramatically raise the rates of electricity we will not be competitive when it comes to building anything."

Representative George Radanovich, a California Republican, added that when the public finds out the true cost it will be "a smackdown the World Wrestling Federation would be proud of."