Obama's Clean Energy Trip Raises Questions
Policy + Politics

Obama's Clean Energy Trip Raises Questions

With trips that began two months after he took office, President Obama has devoted more than half of his out-of-town private-business visits to promoting a single industry: clean technology, which the president says will lead the nation back to economic prosperity.

His praise for renewable-energy projects has been effusive. A day after this year’s State of the Union address, he stood among workers at a small Wisconsin lighting company and dubbed it a “model for the future,” helped by government incentives offering a “leg up to renewable-energy companies.”

He praised workers for “helping to point the way” to a cleaner future while visiting a Charlotte company that makes an electric-car battery component. In Reno, Nev., in April, he lauded a start-up for “growing by leaps and bounds” as it markets a machine that converts waste heat into electricity.

He used similar words a few weeks ago at a Durham, N.C., company that makes energy-efficient lighting, saying it is “helping to lead a clean-energy revolution.”

In all, Obama has visited 22 clean-tech projects on 19 separate trips, all emphasizing economic recovery and a $90 billion stimulus program to promote energy independence. The president has underscored his support by singling out specific companies in speeches and White House radio addresses.

Obama’s unwavering focus has helped him fulfill a campaign pledge to push clean tech, from solar energy and wind power to electric vehicles. But it also has come with political exposure: By emphasizing a sector in which the risks are high, the president has prompted questions on Capitol Hill and from industry about the wisdom of his singular strategy and his political ties to some of the companies chosen for federal attention.

The oil and gas industry, for example, has invested billions in energy innovation and job creation and could benefit from similar presidential attention, said Martin J. Durbin, executive vice president of the American Petroleum Institute.

“He’s missing an incredible opportunity he has to join with us to make a difference in economic growth, job creation, national security and clean technology,” Durbin said. “If you went and added up the number of jobs at these clean-tech companies he visited, in all honesty, I think you’re going to find a very modest number of jobs.”

This month, a congressional energy subcommittee chairman accused the administration of picking clean-tech “winners and losers” by pouring government money into a sector best determined by free-market forces.

Republicans and outside critics also have honed in on the political connections of some companies that have received federal help. The most attention has focused on Solyndra, a Silicon Valley solar company that ran into financial trouble after receiving a $535 million federal loan guarantee commitment. Last week, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee pressed the Office of Management and Budget to account for its role in the selection. Obama visited Solyndra’s factory in May 2010, only weeks after it became public that independent auditors had questioned whether it could remain a “going concern.”

Read more at The Washington Post.