Using a speech about energy independence and clean fuels to tout the latest increase in jobs numbers, President Obama said on Friday that despite the drop in unemployment, "we've got more work to do."
“Making sure jobs are available is the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning and last thing I think about when I go to bed at night,” Obama said at a UPS facility in Landover, Md.
The unemployment rate has fallen a tenth of a percentage point to 8.8 percent as the economy added 230,000 private-sector jobs last month.
The primary purpose of Obama's address was to promote energy independence and announce the National Clean Fleets Partnership—a public-private partnership to reduce diesel and gasoline use among large companies. The Department of Energy will pair with five charter members of the partnership—AT&T, FedEx, PepsiCo, UPS, and Verizon—to increase the use of electric vehicles, alternative fuels and fuel-saving measures.
The address is the second this week promoting energy independence, as the White House tries to rejigger one of its central policy initiatives to accommodate the realities of a Republican-controlled House and a GOP-strengthened Senate that are wary of climate change initiatives.
In a speech on Wednesday at Georgetown University, Obama announced a goal of cutting U.S. oil imports by one-third by 2025, using the benchmark of 11 millions barrels a day imported in 2008 as the number it needs to reduce.
The major companies already in the partnership will help bring credibility to the project, as well as provide a way for smaller companies to participate by providing special resources, technical experience, and support in buying vehicles in bulk.
“One of the best ways to reduce our dependence on oil is by making our cars and trucks more energy efficient, because transportation accounts for more than 70 percent of America’s oil consumption,” Obama said in Friday's remarks. He also argued that making more energy-efficient cars made economic sense because it would help cut the high transportation costs for businesses and families.
The charter members of the partnership represent five of the nation’s 10 largest fleets, the White House said. Their 275,000 vehicles represent a significant portion of the more than 3 million commercial vehicles and trucks on the road in 2009, which used more than 4 billion gallons of fuel. In the near future, the corporate partners will begin using 20,000 vehicles that use clean technology to save more than 7 million gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel. The efforts of the partnership is intended to replace millions of gallons of those petroleum fuels with electricity, natural gas, biodiesel, ethanol, hydrogen, or propane.
Obama said that he had directed the federal government’s departments and agencies—which have the country’s largest fleet in America with 600,000 vehicles—to ensure that 100 percent of vehicles purchased are fuel efficient or use clean energy by 2015. “I’m proud to say this is one place where the government is leading by example,” he said.
“If you’re a business that needs to transport goods, I’m challenging you to replace your old fleet with a clean-energy fleet that’s not only good for your bottom line, but good for our economy, good for our country, and good for our planet,” Obama said, pledging that the federal government would help in the effort. He even joked that Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood would come wash the cars for new buyers.
The president wasn’t just speaking to businesses. He called for both a $7,500 tax rebate available at the dealership for people who wanted to buy electric vehicles and for a program to reward communities that make it easier for people to drive such vehicles, talking about increasing charging stations and natural gas supplies.
Obama closed his remarks by calling on lawmakers to reach a deal on federal spending for the remainder of fiscal 2011. Although his prepared remarks called for him to say that it appeared a deal had been reached on the amount of money to cut from discretionary spending, he revised his delivery to say that that a deal was “close.”
“It would be the height of irresponsibility to halt our economic momentum because of the same old Washington politics,” Obama said. “The American people don’t want us to retreat to our corners and re-fight the same old battles. It can’t be 'my way or the highway' politics. They want their leaders to come together.”
Amidst the Libya and Japan crises, it is the first time he has spoken about the budget in weeks.
This article appears in the April 1, 2011 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.