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Obama Sees Renewables as Cure-All; GOP Stresses Supply Diversity

In his first address to a joint session of Congress last Tuesday, President Obama heralded renewable fuels as the solution to the country's nagging energy problems, while the Republicans in their response stressed the need for diversity in the U.S. energy mix, including stepped-up domestic oil and natural gas drilling.

"To truly transform our economy, protect our security and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy," Obama said during a nearly hour-long speech. The new president appeared to have tunnel vision on the issue of energy, focusing almost solely on renewable fuels to the exclusion of other energy forms.

"So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest $15 billion a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power, advanced biofuels, clean coal and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks." Obama said his plan is to double the nation's supply of renewable energy in the next three years.

Moreover, "we will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills," the president said.

But the Republican response, presented by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, underlined the need for variety in the U.S. energy supply. "All of us remember what it felt like to pay $4 at the [gasoline] pump and unless we act now, those prices will return...We need to increase conservation, increase energy efficiency, increase the use of alternative and renewable fuels, increase our use of nuclear power and increase drilling for oil and gas here at home," he said in a speech, which many critics said lacked luster and was short on new ideas.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called on Obama to include fossil fuels in his energy policy. "We can change our energy economy, but under the most optimistic scenarios we will be dependent on traditional energy sources during our transition," she said.

"We need to develop alternative and renewable energy sources, but we also must make sure that any national energy policy includes provisions that encourage increased domestic production of the resources that we currently rely upon to heat our homes, power our vehicles and grow our economy." Murkowski noted that oil, natural gas and coal met 85% of the nation's primary needs in 2007, and the Energy Information Administration projects that percentage will decline slowly to 79% by 2030.

"President Obama's speech...elevates energy as a critical priority and signals to the American people the importance of developing a comprehensive energy policy. That policy should include all forms of energy, including oil and natural gas," said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, which represents major producers.

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