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March 01. 2012 2:01PM

In Nashua, Obama rips 'phony, election-year promises' about lower gas prices, calls for end to federal subsidies to oil industry


President Barack Obama holds up a graph showing the the U.S. dependency on foreign oil during as he speaks Nashua Community College in Nashua on Thursday. (Bruce Preston /Union Leader)

NASHUA -- As gas prices inch closer to $4 a gallon, President Barack Obama on Thursday again called for Congress to eliminate oil and gas company subsidies during his first visit to New Hampshire this year.

Addressing a crowd of about 1,000 people at Nashua Community College, Obama brought his re-election campaign to the snow-covered state, talking about the economy, the nation's dependence on foreign oil and skyrocketing gasoline prices.

He said $4 billion in tax dollars is spent each year subsidizing the oil industry, questioning the audience whether anyone really thinks Congress should give out that amount of money again this year.

“It's outrageous. It is inexcusable. I'm asking Congress to eliminate this oil industry giveaway right away,” said Obama, speaking at the college's gymnasium to an enthusiastic crowd of students and city officials.

The nation can continue to subsidize fossil fuel, or it can put its efforts into a clean energy future, according to Obama, who said the country must start making investments in renewable energies now.

Everyone is feeling the pinch at the gas pumps, and even some politicians are using the high gas prices as a political opportunity, he said, explaining Granite State residents are too smart to believe that America can just drill its way to lower gas prices.

Acknowledging there are no quick fixes, the president said now is the time to take control of our energy future with an “all-of-the-above strategy” that includes wind, solar, biofuels and continued technology to help vehicles use less oil.

“We are making progress,” he assured citizens, holding up a chart that tracks the nation's dependence on foreign oil and its gradual decline. According to data compiled by the Energy Information Administration, U.S. oil imports fell from 60 percent in 2005 to 45 percent of consumption in 2011, noting consumption has decreased each year since he took office.

Under his administration, there is a near-record number of oil rigs now working in America compared to the rest of the world, according to Obama, adding hundreds of new drilling permits with safety standards have been issued and dozens of new pipelines to move oil have been approved.

However, the president stressed that oil being drilled at home does not set the price of gas here in New Hampshire or across the nation, as it is bought and sold on the world energy market where other factors such as instability in the Middle East can drive up prices.

“Anyone who says we can drill our way out of this problem does not know what they are talking about, or does not know the truth,” said Obama, explaining the nation needs to use less oil and focus on other various energy resources. “I will not walk away from a promise of clean energy. Our future depends on it.”

An estimated 600 members of the public and 400 students from Nashua Community College attended Thursday's event, eager to see the president in person and listen to his remarks. Some of them showed up several hours before his speech, many of them having to stand for quite some time before Obama took the stage.

During his opening remarks at the podium, the president's speech was briefly interrupted when an individual fainted in the large crowd that was gathered on the gymnasium floor. Emergency medical technicians had to assist the individual, who appeared to be fine after just a few moments.

While Elizabeth McHugh appreciated Obama's concern about rising gas prices and his pitch for energy-efficient vehicles, she questioned how young people such as herself could afford a hybrid car.

“I fill up my car about two times a week, maybe even three,” said McHugh, a nursing student. “It costs me about $50 each time, but what other alternative do I have? I cannot afford a hybrid right now, and I know a lot of my friends probably can't either.”

Rene Edwards and Breana Kenney, both of Nashua, said they were ecstatic about the president's comments. The two friends had arrived at the gymnasium before 8 a.m. to listen to Obama's speech shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“It was moving,” said Edwards, 21, “It was an awesome opportunity for us.”

Kenney agreed, saying she is quite happy with the president, who she described as a genuine man whose actions speak as loud as his words.

Prior to Obama's speech, NHGOP Chairman Wayne MacDonald said more Obama government is not the answer to high gasoline prices and an uncertain economic future.

“Unfortunately, we will hear more of the same today in yet another speech that will do nothing except remind New Hampshire why we must make Barack Obama a one-term president,” MacDonald said in a statement.

Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee chairman, agreed. Under Obama, gas prices have gone up over 100 percent, according to Priebus, who said it is unacceptable to pay $3.60 per gallon of gas in Nashua -- even under Obama's own standards.

Thursday's visit by Obama -- who carried New Hampshire in the 2008 presidential election -- was his second trip to New Hampshire in about three months. Vice President Joseph Biden traveled here last week to help boost Obama's re-election campaign efforts.

Following his trip to New Hampshire, the president was traveling to New York where he had four fundraising events planned for Thursday night.


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