President Barack Obama on Monday accused fossil fuel interests and other critics of his energy policies of trying to restrict consumers from accessing solar, wind and other renewable sources in order to protect the status quo.
"That's not the American way," Obama said in a speech at a green energy conference in Las Vegas. "This is about the past versus the future. America believes in the future."
The president also questioned the ideological consistency of those who champion free-market solutions — except when the free market is pointing to the wisdom of renewable energy. He singled out billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who are major donors to Republican political candidates.
"It's one thing if you're consistent in being free market," Obama said. "It's another thing when you're free market until it's solar that's working and people want to buy and suddenly you're not for it anymore. That's a problem."
Obama said the economics are now such that "solar isn't just for the green crowd any more, it's for the green-eyeshade crowd too."
The president compared those who say that shifting to cleaner energy will cripple the economy with climate change deniers who hold up snowballs in February to argue that "somehow disproves decades of scientific data."
Fossil fuel and utility interests have been working at the state level and elsewhere to undercut clean energy policies with arguments that the matter should be left to the free market.
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The annual energy conference was hosted by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. The Nevada senator frequently targets the Koch brothers, depicting them as self-serving oil barons who pay huge sums to try to buy elections and advance their agenda of low taxes and less regulation at the expense of average Americans.
Obama used his appearance to announce new executive actions and other efforts aimed at making it easier for homeowners and businesses to invest in green energy improvements that in the past may have been impractical or unaffordable.
The moves, which include expanding the use of energy improvement loans, are designed to build on the clean power plant rules that the president announced earlier in the month to cut carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants by a third. They all feed into Obama's goal of cutting overall U.S. emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent over the next decade to combat climate change and encourage other countries to do likewise.
The actions Obama announced Monday focused on giving families and businesses more say in what types and how much power they rely on. That could mean rooftop solar panels, once largely the province of committed environmentalists, or other renewable energy innovations.
Ahead of Obama's remarks, Housing Secretary Julian Castro said the plan "hits the sweet spot" by making clean energy more affordable for people and protecting the environment. He said people too often have been "priced out" of clean-energy options.
However, Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, said Obama's policies were leveling "increased costs and decreased choices on all Americans and especially the most disadvantaged communities."
The Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank that denies manmade climate change and gets money from the Koch brothers was among groups co-sponsoring a simultaneous "affordable energy summit" in Las Vegas as a counterpoint to Reid's gathering. The organization, which previously received money from ExxonMobil, maintains that Obama's policies promote wind and solar power at the expense of conventional energy and "will inevitably cause skyrocketing electricity prices while providing little if any net environmental benefits," according to the summit's website.
Obama also announced the approval of a transmission line to support a planned 485-megawatt solar plant planned for Riverside County in California. The Blythe Mesa plant is expected to produce enough renewable energy to power more than 145,000 homes.
While in Nevada, Obama also attended an evening fundraiser at the home of Las Vegas Sun publisher and businessman Brian Greenspun benefiting the Nevada State Democratic Party.
Just back from his Martha's Vineyard vacation, Obama told the Democratic donors he was feeling "refreshed, renewed, recharged" — and "a little feisty."
He declared himself ready for the challenges he faces dealing with a Republican Congress that disagrees with him on the budget, energy policy and other issues.
He said the country needs not just "a president who, after a few gray hairs, seems to know what he's doing, but we also need a Congress that functions."