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Solar Energy Policies: Obama Speaks Domestic Gas

03/22/2012 04:11 PM ET

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 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 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 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,” 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,” 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.

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