Obama Hails Green Energy Profit Potential at Environmental Business Summit

President calls out ‘conservative think tanks’ and ‘the Koch Brothers’ for opposing subsidies

Barack Obama
Barack Obama / AP
August 25, 2015

President Barack Obama hailed the financial opportunities presented by renewable energy during a Monday speech at an event sponsored by green energy companies that stand to benefit from expanded green energy subsidies.

"We think we can do good and do well at the same time," Obama said, plugging his own efforts to "solve a big problem while keeping the engines of the economy moving."

"As long as I’m president, the federal government is going to do its part" in financing green energy projects, he declared.

Obama was speaking at the eighth annual National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas. The event is sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), who has worked for years to steer federal energy subsidies to Nevada businesses, and the Center for American Progress, which promotes green energy subsidies and has received funding from some of the beneficiaries of those subsidies.

Obama put his weight behind green energy subsidies currently at risk of being dropped by the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress. He pleaded for lawmakers to "keep investing in wind rather than make short-sighted cuts."

The Clean Energy Summit brings together policymakers and green energy businesses looking to capitalize on government interest in subsidizing renewable energy and restricting its fossil fuel competition.

The summit is organized by the Clean Energy Project, a Nevada-based nonprofit funded by green energy companies that have received large, targeted taxpayer subsidies, such as Spanish conglomerate Abengoa.

In his remarks, Obama focused less on those targeted subsidies than on broad business tax breaks that benefit fossil fuel companies and the "conservative think tanks" that promote their interests.

"These are groups that tout themselves as champions of the free market," Obama said. "But in this situation they’re trying to undermine competition in the marketplace."

The president called out "the Koch Brothers," libertarian philanthropists Charles and David Koch, as particularly self-dealing in their political advocacy. Koch Industries, the company they own, frequently lobbies against government subsidies that benefit itself or its subsidiaries.

Even a principled objection to green energy subsidies is unacceptable, Obama suggested.

"If folks’ interests or ideologies run counter to where we need to go, we’ve got to be able to say politely but firmly, ‘sorry, we’re moving forward,’" he said to applause.

In contrast to Koch Industries, Obama cited Walmart as an exemplary adopter of the type of cost-saving energy technologies that he says must be promoted through federal policy.

"They’re not in the business of giving away money," he said of the company, which donated $1.4 billion to charity last year. "They’re not doing this just out of altruism, they’re doing it because it means cost savings."

"The private sector is increasingly all-in," Obama told the crowd of like-minded businessmen.