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Obama: 'Brain Power' Key To Curbing Oil Dependency


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

As many of you know, prices at the gas pump are still rising. That can often spell trouble, politically, for a sitting president. And President Obama has spent much of this week touting different kinds of energy as the solution to price spikes. Out on the road, Mr. Obama has promoted a mix of fossil fuels, alternative energy and greater fuel efficiency. Along with solar and wind power, Mr. Obama says brain power can help to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama expended a good deal of energy this week, traveling by airplane, helicopter and SUV. Over the last two days, he visited four different states, staging picture-perfect media events in front of solar panels, oil wells, pipelines and engineers.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Thank you so much. It is great to be in Boulder City...it is wonderful to be back in New Mexico.... so today, I've come to Cushing, an oil town.


OBAMA: It is good to be back at the Ohio State University.


HORSLEY: The trip was partly defensive - fending off Republican attacks that White House policies have stifled oil drilling and contributed to today's high gas prices. Mr. Obama also played offense, accusing Republicans of ignoring the potential of alternative energy and efficiency in a single-minded devotion to fossil fuels.

OBAMA: We can't simply drill our way out of the problem, even if we drilled every square inch of this country right now.

We're going to be relying on other countries for oil. Does anybody here think that's a good strategy?


OBAMA: Of course it isn't. We shouldn't have to pay more at the pump every time there's instability in the Middle East, which is the main reason gas prices are going up right now.

HORSLEY: White House economic and political advisers are well aware of the toll that persistent high gas prices could take on Americans' pocketbooks and the president's re-election chances.

Prices on average have jumped more than 30 cents a gallon over the last month. That caught Zack Petty's attention, as he drove to hear the president speaking at Ohio State.

ZACK PETTY: Matter of fact, we just filled up today at 3.99. So yeah, $3.99.

HORSLEY: Petty's friend, Mohammad Farah, thinks Mr. Obama is right to try to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

MOHAMMAD FARAH: You know, gas in 20 years, 30 years, I think - hopefully, we're no longer using oil.

PETTY: Yeah.

FARAH: 'Cause I feel like we're kind of like crack addicts, you know, trying to get oil all the time. And maybe he's trying to put us on rehab.

HORSLEY: Last summer, Mr. Obama struck a deal with automakers to dramatically raise fuel efficiency - to nearly 55 miles a gallon by 2025.

Ohio State student Curt Derringer thinks that's a good move, even though Derringer usually takes the bus.

CURT DERRINGER: Cars, whether we like it or not, are going to remain our main form of transportation. And we need to make them more efficient so that we're not held hostage by the other countries that fuel us.

HORSLEY: On the Ohio State campus yesterday, Mr. Obama toured the Center for Automotive Research, where students and the auto industry work to design cars that use less gasoline - or none at all. Their projects include the world's fastest electric car, the Buckeye Bullet. It's been clocked going more than 300 miles an hour.

OBAMA: I don't know who's going to need to go that fast.


OBAMA: But it is a testament to the ingenuity here at Ohio State, and what is essential to American leadership, when it comes to energy - our brain power. You know, I will say, though, when Malia gets her license in a few years, she will not be allowed to go 300 miles per - an hour.


HORSLEY: As he wrapped up his two-day energy tour, Mr. Obama adopted a more hopeful tone, suggesting high gas prices are not just an ordeal to be endured, but an opportunity to be seized. Americans can develop more home-grown energy of all different kinds, he said, drawing a cheer from the audience when he invoked his 2008 campaign mantra, yes, we can.

OBAMA: We are inventors. We are builders. We're makers of things. We're Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and Steve Jobs.

By the way, the Wright Brothers were from Ohio.


OBAMA: Just want to point that out.


HORSLEY: Mr. Obama will continue to stress brain power as a long-term remedy for high gas prices, and hope that message resonates with voters in Ohio and other swing states.

OBAMA: Scott Horsley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.