Although President Obama and the participants in a town hall meeting at Binghamton University in New York on Friday devoted most of their discourse to education, energy was mentioned once, with the president acknowledging the rise of natural gas but calling for further investment in alternative energy not derived from fossil fuels.
"We are going to have to prepare for a different energy future than the one we have right now," Obama said at the school, one of several stops along a two-day bus trip across New York and Pennsylvania. "We're producing traditional energy, fossil fuels, at record levels.
"We've actually achieved, or are on the verge of achieving, about as close as you can get to energy independence as America is going to see. Natural gas, oil, all of that stuff has gone up. In some cases what you're seeing is that -- for example transitional fuels like natural gas -- have replaced coal, which temporarily are reducing greenhouse gases.
"But the bottom line is those still are finite resources, climate change is real, the planet is getting warmer, and you've got several billion Chinese, Indians, Africans and others who also want cars, refrigerators [and] electricity. And as they go through their development cycle, the planet cannot sustain the same kinds of energy use as we have right now. So we're going to have to make a shift."
The president did not mention hydraulic fracturing (fracking) or the ongoing moratorium against high-volume hydraulic fracturing in New York.
Obama said it was "critical" for the nation to invest in research and development around so-called "clean energy" sources. Although he did not mention them specifically, there is general agreement that this includes solar, wind and biofuel technology.
"We're going to have to invent some new technologies to solve all of our energy problems," the president said. "But we know the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency. We know that if we design our schools, homes [and] hospitals more efficiently, that as a country we could be probably cut our power usage by 20-30% with existing technologies and without lowering our standard of living.
"We can put a whole bunch of folks to work doing it right now. We can gather up a whole bunch of young people here in this community, train them for installation [and] energy efficient construction, and redo a whole bunch of buildings and institutions right here and eventually it would pay for itself. So it's a 'win-win' across the board."
Obama then blasted Congress for being too cozy with the oil and gas industry.
"Unfortunately, what we've seen too often in Congress, is that the fossil fuel industries tend to be very influential -- let's put it that way -- on the energy committees in Congress," the president said. "And they tend not to be particularly sympathetic to alternative energy strategies. And in some cases we've actually been criticized that it's a socialist plot that's restricting your freedom for us to encourage energy efficient light bulbs, for example.
"I never understood that, but you hear those arguments. You can go on the web and people will be decrying how simple stuff that we're doing like trying to set up regulations to make appliances more energy efficient -- which saves consumers money and is good for our environment -- is somehow restricting American liberty and violates the Constitution."
The crowds lining the president's route in New York State included some carrying pro- and anti-fracking messages, but they were a minority of the on-lookers that turned out to see the president. Obama was scheduled to visit and deliver a speech from Lackawanna College in Scranton, PA, later in the day Friday.