WASHINGTON -- Capitol Hill Republicans mounted an all-out offensive against President Obama's energy initiatives Tuesday, even mocking him for an idea many of them used to like: using algae to create biofuel.
"Over the past few weeks the American people have begun to feel the painful effects of President Obama's energy policy," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared in a Senate floor speech that ridiculed an energy plan Obama detailed last week, which included the use of biofuel sources such as algae. "As millions of Americans groaned at the rising cost of a gallon of gasoline, the president took algae as a substitute for gas. Algae as a substitute for gas," McConnell said in apparent disbelief.
"I think the American people realize that a president who's out there talking about algae -- algae! -- when we're having to choose between whether to buy groceries or fill up the tank is the one who is out of touch," McConnell added, arguing that the way to bring down gas prices is to drill for more oil.
"Americans get this issue," McConnell said. "They get that we need to increase oil production right here at home, not simply rely on pipe dreams -- pipe dreams -- like algae or by wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on more failed clean energy projects."
McConnell was followed by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), who suggested Obama's plans were no plans at all.
"What the president does favor is the Saudis increasing oil production, and increased use of solar, wind and algae here at home," she said. "Does that really substitute for an energy policy?"
Republicans used to think that all of that was at least part of an energy policy. In fact, many were so convinced, they wrote letters to the Department of Energy asking the Obama administration to support algae projects.
In September, 2009, Nebraska Republican Sen. Mike Johanns lobbied for funding for the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology, a project that only offered the hope that such technology could be brought to his state.
"The center will not only accelerate the development of sustainable alternative transportation fuels from algae, but will also create new jobs in the green energy industry," Johanns wrote to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, arguing also that the technology would "reduce our dependence on imported oil."
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), now one of Obama's fiercest alternative energy critics over the failure of solar firm Solyndra, also sought support for the project in an October 2009 letter. "Development of algae as a viable and sustainable source of transportation fuel is critical to decreasing America's dependence on imported oil, while creating new sources of meaningful green collar jobs."
Similarly, former House Republican Conference Chairman Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) argued that algae was a near-magic bullet to solve American energy problems in a July 2009 letter that supported a grant for a company called Stellarwind BioEnergy.
"Algae production directly addresses all the significant challenges being faced by the U.S., namely domestic energy security, greenhouse gas emissions, scientific leadership in a variety of industries, and broad-based green job creation," Pence wrote to the Department of Energy.
The recent attack on algae and biofuel was only part of a broader GOP message avalanche in response to Obama's energy policy speech last week. After their morning conference meeting, shortly after McConnell's remarks, House GOP leaders each delivered scathing broadsides at Obama's plans.
"The president says he's for an all-of-the-above energy plan," said Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). "Has anyone seen it? I'm not seeing it," he said, going on to argue that Obama is blocking oil production, although, as the White House argues, oil production has reached eight-year highs in the United States.
"Listen, Americans understand that we can produce more of our own energy. And they don't understand why 35 years since the oil embargo of 1974, that we've never had a national energy policy. We've got a handful of environmental groups, radical environmental groups, who've stood in the way of having a national energy policy all of these years," Boehner argued. "And it's just about damn time that we actually have a national energy policy and do something the American people want us to do."
Ironically, while Republicans were bashing alternative energy efforts and the algae research -- which is part of the ARPA-E push to develop new fuels -- Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates was enthusiastically praising such work at a conference in Maryland, and calling for funding to be doubled.
"In my view, energy research in the U.S., across the board, is greatly underfunded," Gates said, according to several reports. "It's crazy how little we're funding this energy stuff."