Friday, February 4, 2011

GOP Lawmaker Skeptical About Cost of Energy Program

President Obama used a trip to State College to announce a new energy efficiency plan he says could save the country’s businesses $40 billion a year, once it’s up and running.

The proposal would provide tax credits, loan guarantees and grants to companies overhauling their buildings, in order to save on heating and cooling costs. Early in the speech, Obama acknowledged energy efficiency “isn’t a sexy topic,” saying, “Everybody focuses on cars and gas prices. That’s understandable. But our homes and our businesses use 40 percent of the energy. They contribute to 40 percent of the carbon pollution that we produce, and is contributing to climate change.”

The global warming reference was notable, as Obama didn’t mention climate change once during his State of the Union address, despite running for office on a platform arguing carbon emissions were a serious threat to global stability.

As part of the new plan, Obama wants the federal government to award competitive grants to states and municipalities that toughen energy efficiency standards. “We’re also going to support state and local governments who come up with the best ideas to make energy-efficient buildings the norm. So you show us the best ideas to change your game on the ground, we’ll show you the money,” he said. The effort would be similar to the Department of Education’s “Race to the Top,” which awards money to states that implement aggressive education reforms.

The White House hasn’t put a price tag on the initiative, but the president says the government could pay for it by closing tax loopholes given to big oil companies. Republican Congressman Glenn Thompson, who represents State College, was a bit skeptical of that claim. “I guess I would challenge – I’ve been working on this issue for two years. I want to see where the subsidies are.” Thompson said Obama and other Democrats sometimes exaggerate big energy companies’ perks. “It gets people’s attention because it’s picking out a bad guy you can focus your attention on,” he said.

Thompson was the only member of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation in the audience. Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey were in Washington, and Governor Corbett didn’t attend the speech, either – though Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was there. In fact, Paterno got the biggest applause of the day when Obama mentioned him, and won a standing ovation from the crowd of students when he entered the gymnasium before the speech began.

President Obama offered mild support for the Super Bowl-bound Steelers at the beginning of the speech, pointing out he had visited a town near Green Bay last week. “So, in the spirit of fairness, I’ve come to Pennsylvania, not too far from the center of Steeler Nation, to wish Steelers fans good luck in the Super Bowl, too.” When the Steelers were last in the Super Bowl, Obama actively backed them. During Pennsylvania’s 2008 primary, he frequently said the Steelers had always been his second-favorite team. And, of course, Obama appointed owner Dan Rooney Ambassador to Ireland. So some obersevers were confused by the tepid “good luck in the Super Bowl” language, especially in light of the fact Obama’s favorite team, the Bears, are the Packers’ top rival.

The State College visit was Obama’s tenth trip to Pennsylvania, since taking office.

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