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Obama derides energy critics in Miami speech

By Tom Cohen and Jessica Yellin, CNN
updated 5:45 PM EST, Thu February 23, 2012
President Barack Obama tells students Thursday that energy is
President Barack Obama tells students Thursday that energy is "one of the major challenges of your generation."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: President says critics are uninformed or dishonest on gas prices
  • NEW: Obama defends his administration's "all of the above" energy policy
  • Speech comes at a time when gasoline prices are soaring
  • Fuel prices rose more than 3 cents nationwide overnight

(CNN) -- President Barack Obama said Thursday his Republican critics promising immediate lower gas prices are either uninformed or dishonest, and he pledged in a speech to University of Miami students to continue pushing for alternative energy sources.

Framing the issue as "one of the major challenges of your generation," Obama said developing a broad-based energy policy incorporating all sources -- oil, gas, nuclear, solar, wind and alternatives such as algae -- would take years but was essential for the nation's future economic well-being.

His speech came as gas prices soared around the nation, rising 3.3 cents nationwide overnight to $3.61 a gallon, according to AAA.

GOP presidential challenger Newt Gingrich and other Republicans complain Obama is bowing to foreign oil suppliers such as Saudi Arabia and the environmental lobby by not fully exploiting U.S. oil reserves.

At the Republican debate in Arizona on Wednesday night, Gingrich introduced himself by saying he had "developed a program for American energy so no future president will ever bow to a Saudi king again and so every American can look forward to $2.50 a gallon gasoline."

Without naming Gingrich, Obama appeared to target that remark Thursday, saying to cheers that "anyone who tells you we can drill our way out of this problem doesn't know what they're talking about -- or just isn't telling you the truth."

"It's the easiest thing in the world to make phony election-year promises about lower gas prices," Obama said. "What's harder is to make a serious, sustained commitment to tackle a problem. And it won't be solved in one year, it won't be solved in one term, it may not be solved in one decade. But that's the kind of commitment we need right now."

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He touted current U.S. oil production as being at its highest level in eight years, and he said U.S. reliance on foreign oil imports has decreased, dropping below 50% in 2010.

Obama also listed steps taken under his energy policy, including approval for new nuclear plants; opening more territory including in the Arctic region to exploration and development; an agreement signed with Mexico this week to cooperate on developing oil and gas reserves along their maritime border; increasing fuel efficiency standards in cars and trucks, and developing alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power.

Because of the new fuel standards, he said, in the middle of the next decade "you'll be able to fill up your car every two weeks instead of every week -- something that, over time, will save the typical family more than $8,000 at the pump."

"And it means this country will reduce our oil consumption by more than 2 million barrels a day," Obama added to applause. "That's not only good for your pocketbook, that's good for the environment."

He also made an obvious reference to the bankrupt Solyndra solar panel company that had received $500 million in federal loan guarantees, saying public investment in new technology doesn't pay off right away.

"Some technologies don't pan out, and some companies will fail," Obama said. "But as long as I'm president, I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy."

Repeating that external factors such as Middle East instability cause fluctuating oil prices, Obama insisted that "there isn't a silver bullet. There never has been."

The rising gas price threatens to slow signs of consistent economic recovery in recent months, and Republican critics have focused on the issue as the November presidential election campaign heats up.

Obama ridiculed that strategy, mentioning a news headline that said the rising gas price has Republicans "licking their chops."

"Only in politics do people root for bad news," Obama said, saying the unlimited oil drilling advocated by Republicans won't solve America's long-term energy needs.

"It's not a strategy to solve our energy challenge," he continued to applause. "It's a strategy to get politicians through an election. You know there are no quick fixes to this problem, and you know we can't just drill our way to lower gas prices."

Before the speech, Obama toured the university's Industrial Assessment Center, where students learn how to help manufacturers reduce energy costs.

The government should support such research and innovation, the president said in his speech, and he called for extending tax credits for consumers who take steps such as improving their home energy efficiency.

"This Congress needs to renew the clean energy tax credits that will lead to more jobs and less dependence on foreign oil," Obama said.

He also called for ending billions of dollars in tax subsidies for oil companies.

"These are the same oil companies that have been making record profits off the money you spend at the pump for several years," Obama said. "How do they deserve another $4 billion in subsidies from taxpayers? It's outrageous. It's inexcusable."

In another dig at Republican opponents, Obama added that "every politician who's been fighting to keep these subsidies in place should explain to the American people why the oil industry needs more of their money, especially at a time like this."

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