President Obama energizes Colorado crowd with remarks about country’s energy policies

“An all-out, all-of-the-above strategy [to] develop every available source of America’s energy.”
The Colorado Statesman

During a brief stop-over at Buckley Air Force base in Aurora on Thursday, President Barack Obama said that after hearing talk about reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil his entire life, his administration is finally doing something about it. Pointing to initiatives under way at Buckley, Obama said he plans to harness the vast purchasing power of the military to invigorate markets for clean energy, a move he predicted would save taxpayers money while strengthening national security.

Before a mostly quiet crowd estimated at roughly 400 — about half active-duty military, from all branches, and the remainder invited guests, including students in clean energy programs and supportive politicians — Obama ticked off elements of what he called “an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy [to] develop every available source of America’s energy.”

President Barack Obama describes his program for an “economy built on American energy, fueled on homegrown and alternative energy sources that make us more secure and less dependent on foreign oil” during brief remarks on Jan. 26 at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora. It was the fourth of five stops Obama made in battleground states following his State of the Union speech this week.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Obama said that, contrary to charges by Republicans, domestic oil-and-gas output has increased since he took office, and the country is relying less on foreign oil than it has since the middle of the Clinton administration. “We’re moving in the right direction when it comes to oil and gas production,” he said before adding that boosting traditional energy sources alone won’t be enough.

Denver City Councilman Paul Lopez chats with San Luis Councilwoman Gabrielle Aragon prior to an address by President Barack Obama on Jan. 26 in Aurora. Aragon — the youngest elected official in the state, representing residents of Colorado’s oldest town — was a member of a young leaders roundtable held during Obama’s last visit to Colorado.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“We subsidized oil for a very long time — long enough,” he said. “It’s time to stop giving taxpayer giveaways to an industry that’s never been more profitable. We’ve got to double down on a clean energy industry that’s never been more promising, and Congress is going to need to act.”

Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, take their seats to hear President Barack Obama speak on Jan. 26 at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

He called on lawmakers to pass clean energy tax credits and set standards to foster “the industries of the future,” but acknowledged that Republican opposition could stand in the way of that happening during an election year.

Political consultants Adam Dunstone and Craig Hughes of RBI Strategies make their way into the hangar at Buckley Air Force Base nearly two hours before President Barack Obama delivered a speech touting the military’s move toward alternative energy supplies on Jan. 26 in Aurora.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Instead, he said, “We’re not going to wait for Congress. We’re also going to do some things administratively. He listed measures he’s taken to encourage clean energy on public lands — enough to power 3 million homes, he claimed — and boost the use of alternative fuels by the military, the largest energy consumer in the world.
“We can set a good example and help create an additional market for clean energy,” Obama said. “The Navy is going to purchase enough clean energy capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year — and it won’t cost taxpayers a dime.”

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley enter the seating area just before President Barack Obama is set to deliver a speech on Jan. 26 at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora. The two were among a handful of officials on the tarmac when Air Force One landed. Obama kidded Hancock about his recent acquisition of facial hair, which the mayor told the President was his “winter growth.”
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Nodding to senior-level Department of Defense officials in the audience — Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs Sharon Burke, who flew in to Buckley shortly before Air Force One touched down — Obama said the military wasn’t “just embracing clean energy because it feels good.” The DOD was making “one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history” in order to spur the market and save money, he said.

Former Gov. Bill Ritter talks to reporters following remarks by President Barack Obama at Buckley Air Force Base on Jan. 26. Obama’s vision of “a new energy future” echoes Ritter’s campaign for what he termed “the new energy economy,” a centerpiece of his term as governor.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

The Buckley stop was part of a three-day tour that featured speeches in five states, hitting themes Obama rolled out Tuesday night in his State of the Union address to Congress. Earlier that day, Obama talked about domestic natural gas production — the country’s enormous reserves, he said, make America the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas” — at a UPS facility in Las Vegas. Following his stop in Colorado, Air Force One took flight to Michigan, where Obama delivered a speech on Friday calling for new approaches to control the cost of college tuition.

President Barack Obama lauds the Air Force for initiatives projected to save $500 million over five years by moving to alternative and clean energy consumption during a speech on Jan. 26 at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

In addition to the top DOD officials, Colonel Daniel Dant, Commander of the 460th Space Wing, based at Buckley, and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock Obama greeted Obama as he strode off Air Force One just outside the hanger where he delivered his remarks. Hancock took some ribbing from the President for the new beard he has been sporting since the holidays, replying that it was his “winter growth.”

The Buckley visit — Obama’s third since September — leaves little doubt that Colorado will rank as one of the top battleground states in the November election. Previously, Obama touted his proposals to boost employment during a rally last September outside Abraham Lincoln High School in Denver and unveiled a plan to make college more affordable inside a gymnasium on the Auraria campus on a snowy day in October. Obama carried Colorado by 9 points in 2008, and his campaign has outlined several paths to reelection that rely on the state’s nine electoral votes. For their part, Obama’s GOP opponents contend that Colorado is ripe to return to its longstanding role as a reliably Republican win.

Democratic officials who attended the speech — admittedly, a hand-picked group of staunch supporters — had high praise for the President’s message.

“It’s exciting to have the President in Arapahoe County,” said state Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, whose House district lies to the west of the Air Force base. Flashing a freshly autographed copy of Obama’s The Audacity of Hope, Fields added, “It’s exciting to hear him talk about the green economy and the jobs he’s planning on bringing to our state.”

Denver Councilwoman Robin Kneich said she had “shared a very personal moment” with the President during a brief meeting before he spoke. Noting that he had mentioned the Milwaukee-based Masterlock company as a paragon of American manufacturing during his State of the Union speech, Kneich said she had been excited to tell Obama that both her parents work at the company.

She added that his speech hit home with her. “His point was a good one. It’s not just about being green, it’s economically smart, it’s about security. Here in Colorado, we illustrate the point.”

A clearly elated former Gov. Bill Ritter — whose administration championed the “new energy economy,” a phrase echoed by Obama in the State of the Union address, when he referred to “building this new energy future” — said he was thrilled to hear the President deliver his message in Colorado.

“We worked very hard at developing a clean-energy agenda here in Colorado — I think I signed 57 different pieces of legislation,” Ritter told The Colorado Statesman. “The President talked about this back when he campaigned in 2008. He’s had other things he’s been able to do — a stimulus package, health care — but I really think focusing on clean energy is an important part of his executive agenda and also should be part of Congress’s legislative agenda, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed.”

Republicans weren’t nearly so impressed with Obama’s message.

“No doubt, the military needs to do everything it can to reduce what it spends on the energy necessary to support our troops, and they should use renewable energy sources whenever it is cost effective to do so,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, in a statement. “Unfortunately, so far the President’s green-energy initiative for the Department of Defense has everything to do with scoring political points with environmentalists and very little to do with supporting our war fighters.” He said that pursing expensive sources of energy at the same time the military is cutting personnel will inevitably lead to more force reduction.

State GOP chairman Ryan Call blasted the visit as “nothing more than a taxpayer-funded campaign stop,” calling Obama’s speech “the same empty rhetoric and the same failed policies.”

During a press conference held inside the State Capitol a few hours before Obama landed in Aurora, Call charged that Obama has made the country more reliant on foreign oil by withholding approval for the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada, along with costing more jobs by backing Solyndra, a solar-energy firm that recently declared bankruptcy after accepting millions of dollars in taxpayer-backed loan guarantees.

Later that day, Call’s Democratic counterpart, party chairman Rick Palacio, fired back that Call had “crossed an ethical boundary” by castigating the President from behind a lectern emblazoned with the Seal of the State of Colorado. “It was incredibly inappropriate,” Palacio said. “You will never find me doing a press conference in the press room using state resources to hold a political event.”

Call’s attacks — delivered alongside state Reps. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster, and Libby Szabo, R-Arvada, the legislature’s two Hispanic GOP members, as part of Colorado Hispanic Republican Day at the Capitol — were wrong-headed, Palacio said. “Their priorities are all mixed up. The House should be working on a comprehensive jobs agenda. Instead, they were using their morning to beat up the President at taxpayer expense.”

Outside the East Mississippi Avenue gate to the base, a handful of Occupy movement protesters gathered to deliver messages to the President, including demands that bring an end to “Big-Bank Fraud” and that he “Represent People Not Polluters” when it comes to natural gas extraction.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com