Obama makes swing-state energy push amid GOP attacks over high gas prices

President Obama on Wednesday touted White House efforts to boost deployment of electric-powered and natural gas vehicles during his third energy-themed speech in as many weeks in electoral battleground states.

The remarks at a Daimler Trucks North America manufacturing plant in North Carolina reflect an aggressive White House push to rebut GOP attacks over gasoline prices, which have surged in recent weeks.

“The next time you hear some politician trotting out some three-point plan for $2 gas, you let them know that we know better,” Obama said at the plant, which manufactures hybrid and natural-gas powered trucks.

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“Tell them we are tired of hearing phony, election-year promises that never come about, that what we need is a serious, sustained, all-of-the-above strategy for American-made energy, American-made efficiency, American innovation, American fuel-efficient trucks, American fuel-efficient cars,” he said, speaking in shirtsleeves with a tie that he noted has shades of blue from the colors of both the University of North Carolina and bitter rival Duke University.

Gas prices have surged in recent weeks but leveled off over the last couple of days.

Regular gasoline prices are averaging $3.76 per gallon nationwide, according to AAA, a 28-cent rise over the last month that presents a political threat to Obama.

He made remarks on energy in Florida two weeks ago and in New Hampshire last week. 

On Wednesday he used the speech to tout White House proposals to expand tax credits for alternative-fueled vehicles, and a plan aimed at helping cities boost deployment.

The speech also shows that Obama is seeking to make the election-year economic case for green energy despite sustained GOP criticism over stumbles in the administration’s programs.

“We can’t just keep on relying on old ways of doing business,” Obama said. “We can’t just rely on fossil fuels from the last century, we have got to continually develop new sources of energy, that’s why we have made investments that have nearly doubled the use of clean, renewable energies in the country, and thousands of Americans have jobs because of it.”

Republicans continue to highlight Solyndra, the solar company that went bankrupt last year after receiving a $535 million Energy Department loan guarantee in 2009.

Obama on Wednesday also promoted the administration’s increases in fuel-economy standards, noting they are projected to eventually save drivers thousands of dollars over time.

He returned to the hallmarks of his election-year energy message, warning there are no “quick fixes” to rising gasoline prices while portraying GOP criticism as political opportunism. 

Obama touted expanded domestic oil production and falling import reliance, but argued that the United States can’t drill its way to lower energy prices and must diversify away from oil with efficiency, natural gas, electrification and othe alternative fuels.

“We may not get there in one term,” Obama said to shouts of “four more years” from workers at the plant.

“It’s going to take us a while to wean ourselves off of the old and grab the new. But we are going to meet this challenge, because we are Americans. Our destiny is not written for us. It’s written by us.”

Obama also sought to put Republicans on the defensive politically by repeating his call for Congress to vote in short order on repealing billions of dollars in oil industry tax breaks, a proposal that faces resistance from many Republicans and some conservative Democrats.

“Eliminate these subsidies right away,” Obama said, arguing that lawmakers “can stand up for the oil companies or they can stand up for the American people and this new energy future.”

Obama narrowly carried North Carolina in 2008. On Wednesday he said North Carolina residents are a friendly bunch — even the people who don’t support him.

“Even the folks who don’t vote for me, they are nice to me, they usually wave five fingers,” Obama quipped at the Daimler plant.

Daimler is a partner in the Energy Department’s SuperTruck program, which is aimed at boosting the fuel efficiency of long-haul trucks by 50 percent by 2015.