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September 1, 2014

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Obama gets first jabs on Vegas’ ‘green’ turf

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Steve Marcus

Barack Obama talks with supporters during his campaign event Tuesday at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve. In his speech, the senator said investments in alternative energies could produce more than 80,000 jobs in Nevada by 2025. “A green, renewable energy economy isn’t some pie-in-the-sky, far-off future,” he said.

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  • Barack Obama discussed renewable energy in Southern Nevada at a speech at the Springs Preserve.
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  • Obama compares the use of renewable engery in Germany and the United States.
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  • Obama on what Washington D.C. has done about renewable energy.
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  • Obama on John McCain's energy policy.
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Barack Obama used a campaign speech on energy in Las Vegas on Tuesday to sully the “green” credentials of his Republican presidential rival, John McCain, who has been running ads in sunny Nevada boasting of his work on global warming.

Obama seized on remarks McCain made this week that offshore drilling would have a “psychological impact” on the oil speculation that some say has driven the price of gas to more than $4 a gallon.

“In Washington-speak, what that means is, it polls well,” Obama said, prompting laughter from about 80 “green industry” workers at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve, a 180-acre nature preserve on the site of the original Las Vegas oasis. “It’s an example of how Washington tries to convince you they’ve done something to make your life better when they really didn’t.”

He continued: “The American people don’t need psychological relief or meaningless gimmicks. They need real relief that will help them fill up their tanks and put food on their table.”

McCain’s campaign responded swiftly, with energy adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin saying the comments “revealed (Obama) doesn’t understand the fundamentals of a modern financial market and how it’s a usual way to convey information to participants in our economy.”

The attention being paid to energy in Las Vegas this week underscores the importance of Nevada as a key battleground state in November. McCain is set to deliver a speech on energy today at UNLV.

The state boasts enormous renewable energy potential, a fact not lost on Obama as he sought to use the setting (the Springs Preserve generates 70 percent of its power from solar panels) and the audience (peppered with workers from government agencies, unions and contractors all engaged in the energy industry) as a national example of a green economy.

“A green, renewable energy economy isn’t some pie-in-the-sky, far-off future,” Obama said. “It is now.”

Investing in solar, wind and geothermal energy could produce more than 80,000 new jobs in Nevada by 2025, he said. In the short term, however, Obama offered his prescription for “real relief”: issuing a second round of economic stimulus checks, taxing the record profits of oil companies, awarding a $1,000 tax cut to most workers and closing the “Enron loophole” that would mean tighter regulation of oil speculators.

In addition to promising to raise fuel economy standards for automobiles, Obama has pledged to invest $150 billion over the next decade in renewable energy research and development. On Tuesday he derided McCain’s proposals as little more than political posturing, particularly his pledge to offer a $300 million prize to anyone who develops a car battery that would “leapfrog” hybrid or electric power.

“When John F. Kennedy decided that we were going to go put a man on the moon, he didn’t put a bounty out for some rocket scientist to win,” Obama said. “He put the full resources of the United States government behind the project and called on the ingenuity and innovation of the American people, not just in the private sector but also in the public sector.”

McCain has also proposed suspending the gas tax for 90 days, allowing offshore drilling and building more nuclear power plants, and his campaign has dubbed Obama “Dr. No” because of the Democrat’s opposition to all of those ideas.

Obama’s camp points to McCain’s voting against fuel efficiency standards and against a 2005 energy bill that included the “largest ever” investment in renewable energy. At the same time, Obama has taken heat for his support of corn ethanol — and the fact that many of his prominent advisers and supporters have ties to the industry. Corn ethanol is considered by many economic, consumer and environmental groups to be a boondoggle for agribusiness and packs a considerably smaller energy kick than ethanol made from sugar cane.

In response to a question on nuclear energy, Obama said he wouldn’t “rule it off the table” but insisted it was not a viable alternative until concerns about storing the waste safely are resolved. He opposes Yucca Mountain as the country’s nuclear waste dump but supports research on storage and recycling in general. McCain supports the dump proposal.

Likewise, while Obama said he supports “clean coal” as a potential alternative, he said the technology to make it environmentally safe is still lacking, and thus does not support the production of “new coal plants with old technologies that are, at best, going to be obsolete.” Nevada has plans for three such coal plants.

The candidates’ visits this week come at an important time for Nevada’s solar industry.

The Bureau of Land Management has quietly stopped accepting new applications for solar plants on federal land. The moratorium, reported last week by the Sun and catching even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid by surprise, is expected to last 22 months — about as long as it will take the agency to complete a study of the environmental impacts. But developers say the delay will kill the industry, which is just getting on its feet here.

Obama said Tuesday that he was unfamiliar with the specifics but would have the Energy Department, under his administration, “evaluate any moratorium to make sure it doesn’t impede that kind of development.”

And then, taking his last question, Obama signed off with a nod to Nevada’s libertarian spirit. “I’m a Democrat, and there have been times in the past when Democrats have gotten regulation-happy,” he said. “I want enough government to do what needs to get done ... We should have as light a hand as possible while ensuring we have tight, tough standards.”

Sun reporter Phoebe Sweet contributed to this report.

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