Obama jabs 'climate change deniers'

President Obama called out Capitol Hill’s “climate change deniers” Wednesday night at a Democratic fundraiser in California.

Obama, speaking at a San Francisco event for donors, called rising gasoline prices an economic drain on drivers and said curbing oil reliance is a “national security imperative.”

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“And then there’s the environmental aspect of it. There are climate change deniers in Congress and when the economy gets tough, sometimes environmental issues drop from people’s radar screens,” Obama continued, speaking at the home of Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff.

“But I don’t think there’s any doubt that unless we are able to move forward in a serious way on clean energy, that we’re putting our children and our grandchildren at risk,” Obama added.

Obama also talked climate during his appearance at Facebook’s Palo Alto headquarters earlier in the day, listing it among the challenges facing the nation.

“Internationally, we're seeing the sorts of changes that we haven't seen in a generation.  We've got certain challenges like energy and climate change that no one nation can solve but we're going to have to solve together,” Obama said. “And we don't yet have all the institutions that are in place in order to do that.”

Climate change has been on and off the menu in Obama’s remarks on energy this year, and some environmentalists want a more robust White House stance on the issue.

His State of the Union Speech in January lacked any mention of climate change or greenhouse gases. It referred to the issue obliquely, noting that boosting clean energy is needed to “protect our planet.”

The issue made a roaring comeback in Obama’s high-profile March 30 speech on energy at Georgetown University, when climate and carbon garnered a half-dozen references in wide-ranging remarks about energy security.

“The only way for America’s energy supply to be truly secure is by permanently reducing our dependence on oil. We’re going to have to find ways to boost our efficiency so we use less oil. We’ve got to discover and produce cleaner, renewable sources of energy that also produce less carbon pollution, which is threatening our climate,” he said.

The comments come as the White House is trying to politically recalibrate its energy and climate agenda following the collapse of cap-and-trade legislation on Capitol Hill last year — legislation that’s a non-starter in the current Congress.

Capitol Hill Republicans and some Democrats are trying to kill or delay the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate change regulations.

Obama, for his part, is no longer advocating for emissions-capping legislation. He’s instead pushing for a “clean-energy standard” that would require utilities to greatly expand electricity from low-carbon sources in coming decades (a plan that faces big hurdles in Congress).

Obama’s also calling for increases in clean energy R&D spending, planning continued boosts in auto fuel economy rules, and preparing first-time mileage standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks, among other goals in the White House energy blueprint.

Obama addressed rising gasoline prices at the San Francisco event Benioff hosted, even while acknowledging that donors at the $35,800-per-plate event weren’t personally struggling with costs at the pump.

“Right now we’ve got $4-a-gallon gas, and most of the people under this tent don’t have to worry about that. But for the average person who has to drive 50 miles to work and can’t afford to buy the Tesla, it’s hammering them. It’s hurting them,” Obama said, according to a White House transcript that notes the Tesla comment drew laughter.

Tesla Motors is a California-based company that makes an electric sports car that sells for more than $100,000, while the sedan Tesla plans to make available next year is about half that price.

Obama added:

“So there’s a huge economic imperative. There’s a national security imperative, as well, because we see what’s happening in the Middle East and we understand that a finite resource that is primarily located in a very unstable part of the world is not good for our long-term future.”