Barack Obama photo

Interview with Kai Ryssdal of The Marketplace at the Copper Mountain Solar Plant in Boulder City, Nevada

March 21, 2012

Ryssdal. Mr. President, thanks for joining us.

The President. Great to be here. Thank you.

Ryssdal. You were talking about your "all of the above" energy strategy

The President. Right

Ryssdal. But I wonder whether Americans aren't more interested in a "one of the above" energy strategy and that is gas not at $4 a gallon.

The President. Well, look ultimately what Americans care about is the huge burden that it's placing on families right now. If you have to drive 50 miles to work, and I hear from a lot of folks who do, then this is a real strain on budget. So their most immediate concern is gas prices, but it's interesting when you talk to Americans across the country, what they also realize is that there's no silver bullet. They want to make sure we have got strong oil and gas production, and they're glad to hear that we're starting to make progress on natural gas on additional oil production here in the United States. They also understand that if we only have two percent of the world's oil reserves but using 20% of the world's oil, then the math is not going to add up unless we also develop the kinds of new technologies that are represented by this solar panel field out here.

Ryssdal. Acknowledging there is no silver bullet, you get criticized by republicans on their campaign trail, your response has been "We're drilling as much as we can, more oil than any time in the past 8 years." Is there more you can do so that it doesn't cost $55 to fill up your tank?

The President. Well the main reason that you're seeing the kind of gas spike that we're seeing right now has to do with the uncertainty in the Middle East. So a lot of this has to do with the risk premium that's being tacked on, people aren't certain about what gonna happen with Iran. There's also been some tightening in the market because some unlikely places like Sudan and Yemen, they may only produce a 100,000 barrels or 200,000 barrels, but when you add it all up, you've see about a million barrels taken off the market. And what that means is is that even if we produce as fast as we can, we're still not going to see gas prices where we'd like them to be, unless we're also focused on being more efficient with the oil and gas that we have.

So as you said, we are producing more than any time in the last eight years, we've actually reduced oil imports to under 50%, and they are as low as they've been in a long time over the last couple of years. What we now need to do now is open up additional sites for drilling, and we're doing that. We're actually even on public lands, we've increased permitting by about 13%. But what we've also got to do is double fuel efficiency standards on cars, we've—we're slighted right now by the next decade to see fuel efficiency standards to go up to 55 miles per gallon, that can save families about $8,000 during the life time of a car. We're going to have to make sure that we're using oil in our businesses a lot more efficiently. So if we add improved production with increased efficiency, then over time we can regain control over our—our energy supplies.

Ryssdal. With all respect, it was kind of a gutsy move, I think, to come to a solar facility. Your administration has staked a lot on clean technology—

The President. Yeah.

Ryssdal. — green jobs. The biggest item most people know about that strategy is of course a company named Solyndra, which your administration gave loan guarantees to, that then went bankrupt, that has been the subject of many investigations. Are you doing your all of the above strategy right if that's what we have to show for it, Solyndra?

The President. We are doing the all of the above strategy right, obviously we wish Solyndra hadn't gone bankrupt, part of the reason they did was because the Chinese were subsidizing their solar industry and flooding the market in a ways Solyndra couldn't compete. But understand this was not our program per see, Congress, Democrats and Republicans, put together a loan guarantee program because they understood historically that when you get new industries, it's easy to raise money for start ups, but if you want to take them to scale, often times there's a lot of risk involved. And what the loan guarantee program was designed to do was to help start up companies get to scale. And the understanding is is some companies are not going to succeed, some companies will do very well, but the portfolio as a whole ends up supporting the kind of innovation that helps make America successful in this innovative, 21st century economy. Do I wish that Solyndra had gone bankrupt? Absolutely not, and obviously it's heartbreaking to happen for the workers who were there. When you look at the overall portfolio, is it right for us to make sure that we're not just cashing in our chips and letting the Chinese or the Germans develop the technologies that we know are going to be critical in the future? I'm proud to say that we're are going to continue to support…

Ryssdal. You said when you were campaigning in 2008 that you were going to 150 billion dollars on green tech and clean energy and create 5 million clean energy jobs. You didn't get there.

The President. Well we haven't gotten there partly because this thing interceded called the Great Recession. We had the worst financial crisis—

Ryssdal. Well—

The President. — and the biggest—the biggest drop in employment. And the housing market, obviously, the bottom fell out of it. And so we've spent a lot of time digging our way out of that hole, part of it has been a clean energy strategy and investments that we made because of the Recovery Act. The investments that are being made as we speak help to account for the kind of solar facility that we are seeing right here that is creating jobs right here in Boulder City.

Ryssdal. Let me ask you about the labor market. Unemployment is down from it's high during this administration, it's now at 8.3%. There are still millions of people, though, unemployed. Long term unemployment is becoming a structural problem in this economy as people lose the skills. What more can you do and what more should the government do to create jobs in this economy?

The President. Well there are a bunch of things we should be doing. You're right, we've made progress. The fact is is that over the last 24 months we've created almost about four million jobs. We've seen more growth in the manufacturing sector than any time since the 1990s, about 400,000 jobs created over the last couple of years. And so the trend lines are good, and one of the most important things that we needed to do was to make sure the economy was growing. But you're right, we still have way too many people unemployed, there are still some head winds that we've got to deal with.

I'll give you a couple of examples. Number one the housing market is still probably the biggest drag on the economy, now what we've done administratively is allow people to start refinancing their homes to take advantage of historically low rates if their mortgages is held by one of the FHA programs, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac. The problem is is that that only captures a portion of people that could be refinancing, saving 3,000 bucks, putting more money into the economy and creating more jobs and getting the construction industry back up and running. So we've called on Congress to make a change that would allow everybody to refinance right now. That's something that would create jobs.

Second example, infrastructure. We've got couple of trillion dollar of improvements that need to be made right now all across the country. Interest rates have never been lower, contractors have never been more desperate for work, construction workers are idle at home when they want to be working. For us to engage and embark on a major infrastructure development program right now not only would put people to work as we speak, but it would also pay huge dividends in terms of economic growth over the long term. So the issue here is not that there aren't things we can do to put people back to work, retrain them for jobs that currently exist. The challenge is that Congress is going to have to think a little more boldly than they have been and get past some of the partisan name calling that has become a habit in Washington. If we do, then there are a bunch of things we can do to put people back to work.

Ryssdal. Let me use that as a pivot then and ask you about the Republicans who are currently campaigning for your job. I don't know if you watched the TV last night after the Illinois primary, I'm sure you got a briefing this morning. Both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum made the case that their platforms of economic freedom are the way to go. They say you're not doing enough, they say you haven't been doing enough, you shrug but that I mean you—you know what they're saying. So the question is make the— close the sale, right? Because you keeping the job in November is gonna be depending on how people feel about whether you did it or you didn't do it as you promised three and a half years ago.

The President. Look, you know, I think at a time when people are still out there struggling around the country, where unemployment is still to high, and a lot of folks are still worried about their mortgage, their home being underwater, nobody I think can claim that we are where we want.

But I think when the American people think back to the last three years and where we've been and where we're moving towards now, when you ask them, what has more likelihood of succeeding, a policy in which we are providing additional tax cuts to the very wealthiest of Americans who are the only folks who have benefited from any significant income growth over the past decade, stripping away regulations that help keep our air and water clean, defunding things like education that we know are going to help us to be competitive, when you ask them is that a recipe for long term economic growth their answer is going to be no. And when you turn to them and say should we be investing in school reform that puts more money in but also demands greater accountability and makes sure that we're investing in teachers, should we be rebuilding our infrastructure, should we be investing in clean energy technology, should we be investing in basic research and science, and should we pay for that and get our deficit under control with a balanced approach that gets rid of programs that don't work but is also making sure that folks like me are paying our fair share of taxes, then that's the recipe that they have a lot more confidence will allow us to be competitive in the 21st century. So, you know, the debate is going to be joined, I think its going to be a healthy one.

But the fact is we've tried what their peddling. We tried it in the decade before the financial crisis, shoot we tried it before— the decade before the Great Depression. And historically that recipe, that sort of on your own economics that is now being warmed over in this campaign, has not been a recipe for American greatness and American economic success.

Ryssdal. Mr. President, thanks very much for your time sir.

The President. I enjoyed it, thank you very much

Ryssdal. Appreciate it.

Barack Obama, Interview with Kai Ryssdal of The Marketplace at the Copper Mountain Solar Plant in Boulder City, Nevada Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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