President Obama discusses energy efficiency Friday at the UPS Capital Division DC Building in Landover. (Photo: Jessica Harper)
By JESSICA HARPER
LANDOVER, Md. (April 1, 2011) President Obama took his energy security push to a UPS shipping house here Friday, where he praised the company's use of electric vehicles in its daily operations.
This use of green energy, he said, feeds into a broader plan set forth by his administration: He plans to cut America's foreign oil imports by one-third in a little over a decade.
"That is achievable, it is necessary, it is good for our future, and we are going to get it done," he said, soon after taking the podium at the UPS Capital Division DC Building. "I'm confident we can get it done."
The president named advanced biofuel research and new incentives for natural gas fleets as essential to making his plan a reality.
UPS supervisor Tony Strickland beamed as the president spoke.
"It has been the buzz all week," said Strickland, a Silver Spring resident who oversees the Landover branch. "Even employees unable to make it were really excited for the ones who are here today to see him."
Strickland said receiving positive attention from the president is a great feeling.
"We just got the new electric car. It rides smooth and is fuel efficient," he said. "This is a really exciting time for us. I think it will put us ahead of the competition."
Obama announced his new energy goals at a speech at Georgetown University Wednesday, saying, "The United States of America cannot afford to bet our long-term prosperity, our long-term security on a resource that will eventually run out, and even before it runs out will get more and more expensive to extract from the ground."
Some of the president's critics have charged that this clean energy push is part of a re-election platform, suggesting the president is playing on the fears of those feeling the pinch from higher gas prices.
He responded to the naysayers.
"My hope is that members of both parties—Republicans and Democrats—will support these kind of proposals," he said. "This shouldn't be a partisan issue. This is an American issue—making sure that we have energy security and energy independence."
One of the best ways to reduce dependence on foreign oil, the president said, is by making cars and trucks more energy efficient.
"Transportation accounts for more than 70 percent of America's oil consumption," he said.
Making a transition to a clean economy, he said, would prevent families from being "held hostage to whims of the oil market," and create new jobs in the U.S.
The president took a clean fleet tour before his speech. He viewed vehicles from AT&T, PepsiCo, and Verizon, in addition to UPS.
Scott Wicker, UPS chief sustainability officer, said he supports the president's pledge. Wicker said UPS has been testing different types of alternative fuel vehicles since 1935. He said the company has hybrid electric and hybrid hydraulic vehicles in addition to liquid natural gas for its tractor trailers.
"This is very important for us," he said. "I think the country needs help in pushing the technology forward. We just need help to get it to a price point, so it's great to see our president here to talk about it."
The technologies are out there; it's up to companies to use them, Wicker said.
"We've been testing all of them and will continue to test all of them, as a corporation," Wicker said. "We feel an obligation to push them forward. With the government's help, we will get there."
Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, who also attended the event, said the occasion bolsters his district's green plan.
"Green jobs are the future," said Baker. "Going green also means saving energy and retrofitting buildings in Prince George's County.
Baker expects going green to create new job opportunities for his constituents.
"It's a tremendous opportunity for us to emerge as a leader," said Baker.
The president also highlighted his administration's National Clean Fleets Partnership, a challenge to businesses that transport goods to exchange their old fleets with clean energy ones.
"It's not only good for your bottom line, but good for our economy, good for our country, good for our planet," Obama said.
Every year, the president said, millions of commercial vehicles travel America's roads and highways, burning nearly 4 billion gallons of fuel along the way. The fleet partnership, he said, would help end this problem.
"With this partnership, we'll help make sure those vehicles are energy-efficient, so we can cut the amount of pollution they pump into the air, cut the amount of gasoline they need to fill a tank and cut the amount of oil America imports from abroad," he said.
The clean fleet partnership is part of a broader plan, the president said, to promote fuel-efficient vehicles and build a clean energy economy.
"As a result, our cars will get better gas mileage, and ultimately they're expected to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil," he said. "Our consumers will save money with fewer trips to the pump. Our automakers will build more innovative cars and trucks."
In a conference call later in the day, Gov. Martin O'Malley echoed President Obama's sentiments on energy-efficiency. He emphasized the role that Maryland is playing in developing green energy and thanked the president for his "bold leadership in pledging to reduce dependence on foreign energy sources."
O'Malley also said Obama's plan would "win for our children a cleaner, greener energy future."
"President Obama has given the country the leadership we need," he said. "Every state has the responsibility to put their back into this."
O'Malley is overseeing the exchanging of MTA buses with electric hybrids, and exchanging MARC's entire fleet of 26 diesel locomotives with newer, more reliable and powerful energy-efficient models, according to his Press Secretary Shaun Adamec.
The governor has also mandated the Department of General Services to use biodiesel in state vehicles where possible, and has asked the Maryland Energy Administration to identify specific steps to accelerate use of electric vehicles.
Capital News Service reporter Holly Nunn contributed to this report.