WASHINGTON — Looking for a political and policy victory, President Barack Obama on Wednesday pushed energy proposals designed to attract allies and opponents alike, calling for increased ethanol production and new technology to limit pollution from the use of coal.
Facing a Senate with a newly energized Republican minority, Obama has begun tailoring his energy policy to GOP-supported ideas, starting in his State of the Union address last week with calls for offshore oil drilling opposed by environmentalists and a bigger role for nuclear power.
The first-term president – politically weakened by the loss of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's seat to Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown – also has begun promoting his energy policy as a job-creating boost to the economy.
"Now, there's no reason that we shouldn't be able to work together in a bipartisan way to get this done," Obama said during a bipartisan meeting with governors in the White House's State Dining Room. "It's good for our national security and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. It's good for our economy, because it will produce jobs."
He spoke as the White House released presidential task force recommendations calling on both Washington and the private sector to spend more money on biofuels like ethanol. The group said the nation likely will fall short of goals Congress has set for creating more environmentally friendly energy.
At the same time, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a new rule requiring U.S. companies to produce at least 13 billion gallons of renewable fuels this year, up from about 11.1 billion gallons in 2009. Thirteen billion gallons is about 9 percent of overall U.S. fuel consumption. Congress has set a goal of 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the new rules would reduce oil dependence by million of barrels a year and "help bring new economic opportunity to millions of Americans, particularly in rural America."
In his meeting with the governors, Obama also announced a new task force to study ways to increase the use of coal in meeting the nation's energy needs without increasing the pollution that contributes to global warming.
"It's been said that the United States is the Saudi Arabia of coal, and that's because ... it's one of our most abundant energy resources," Obama said. "If we can develop the technology to capture the carbon pollution released by coal, it can create jobs and provide energy well into the future."
Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire said the president told coal-state governors he understood their resistance to change when coal suppliers in their states are making money. She said Obama urged them to be partners in developing clean coal alternatives, a proposal that was embraced by many Republicans in the room.
"There was consensus around, let's see if we can develop a clean coal strategy of the future," she said.
The White House meeting comes a day after Obama signaled a willingness to separate a controversial cap-and-trade proposal aimed at limiting carbon pollution from more attractive green energy jobs and energy efficiency proposals. The House approved the anti-pollution measure last year as part of a comprehensive energy bill, but it is unlikely to win Republican support on Capitol Hill.
Energy has been a major part of the president's domestic agenda since he took office, but it has taken on new urgency in the wake of Brown's victory in Massachusetts as both the president and his Democratic allies on Congress look ahead to the fall elections.
Associated Press Writer Julie Pace contributed to this report.