Against the desert backdrop of the nation’s largest solar energy installation, President Obama on Wednesday assailed Republican critics of his clean energy policies as “the flat earth society” even as he sought to demonstrate his own support for domestic oil and gas production.
Before Mr. Obama spoke at the solar plant southeast of Las Vegas, administration officials previewed an executive order that the president will announce on Thursday in Oklahoma to expedite federal permits for the southern half of the Keystone XL oil pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico. Republicans derided the move as a political stunt, intended only to blunt their criticism of Mr. Obama’s decision in January to reject, on environmental grounds, a northern leg of the pipeline from Canada to Cushing, Okla.
The partisan back and forth reflected the election-year stakes as Americans’ disgust with high gasoline prices has chipped at Mr. Obama’s approval ratings in polls and given Republicans a renewed sense of his vulnerability on pocketbook issues at a time when the economy otherwise has been improving.
The president’s visits to Nevada and New Mexico on Wednesday opened a four-state trip over two days to highlight what he calls his “all of the above” agenda to foster alternative energy sources, as well as oil and gas, with federal tax and spending incentives.
“And, yes, that means we make investments in stuff that is new and we stop subsidizing stuff that’s old,” Mr. Obama told a small audience at the nation’s largest solar energy installation, Sempra Energy’s Copper Mountain Solar 1 Facility, which now provides power for 17,000 homes in California and is building additional acres of solar panels to create energy for 110,000 more, according to the company.
“The current members of the flat earth society in Congress, they would rather see us continue to provide $4 billion — $4 billion — in tax subsidies, tax giveaways, to the oil companies,” Mr. Obama said. “Every time you fill up at the pump, they’re making money,” he added.
Such language sets up a Senate vote, perhaps next week, on a Democratic proposal to repeal $2 billion in tax subsidies for the biggest oil companies and dedicate that sum to clean energy projects. But the measure is expected to fall short — as similar proposals have — as Democrats from energy-producing states join with the Senate’s Republican minority against it.
The office of Speaker John A. Boehner released a statement dismissing Mr. Obama’s energy trip as a “tour de farce” and recalling the much-publicized failure of another beneficiary of the administration’s clean energy subsidies, the solar manufacturing firm Solyndra.
Mr. Obama anticipated such counterattacks in his remarks.
“Each successive generation recognizes that some technologies are going to work; some won’t,” he said. “Some companies will fail; some companies will succeed.” But, Mr. Obama added, “I’m not going to give up on the new to cede our position to China or Germany or all the other competitors out there who are making massive investments in clean energy technology.”
In advance of Mr. Obama’s remarks, the American Petroleum Institute released a letter to Mr. Obama from its president, Jack N. Gerard, taking issue with the administration’s offensive.
“Pitting one energy source against another is a false choice which ignores the fact that we will need it all,” Mr. Gerard wrote.
In arguments that Republicans have echoed, Mr. Gerard countered Mr. Obama’s frequent claim that oil production in the United States is the highest in eight years, saying that production is up on private and state lands but down on federally owned land. Administration officials dispute that.
From Nevada, Mr. Obama flew to southeastern New Mexico to examine federal lands where 70 rigs are pumping oil.
He told a friendly audience there, “You wouldn’t know it from listening to some of these folks who are running for office — I won’t mention any names; you know who they are — but producing more oil here in our own country has been, and will continue to be, a key part of our energy strategy. Under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That’s a fact.”
Like Thursday’s scheduled stop in Cushing, the president’s itinerary is intended to show that he is not hostile to oil and gas production, as his opponents would have it. From Oklahoma, Mr. Obama will close his cross-country swing in Ohio, at an Ohio State University center for advanced energy research and development.
Most of Mr. Obama’s stops are in election battleground states; this will be his second visit to Ohio in two weeks. So Oklahoma stands out: it was 50th among the states in support for Mr. Obama in 2008, with 66 percent of its vote going to John McCain. In the other three states, Crossroads GPS, a Republican “super PAC,” bought broadcast time for anti-Obama advertisements to offset coverage of his appearances.