Steve Muza / Lantern photographer
President Barack Obama said it was good to be back at Ohio State, even if at least one onlooker wasn’t as pleased.
Obama spoke before an almost full crowd of about 2,600 people in the RPAC’s Tom W. Davis Special Events Gym Thursday about his energy policies. The cost to put on the event is not yet known.
The president’s speech at OSU was to discuss “a strategy where (America will) produce more oil, produce more gas, but also produce more American biofuels and more fuel-efficient cars, more solar power, more wind power, more power from the oceans, more clean and renewable energy,” Obama said, as gas prices near $4 per gallon.
The chiefly pro-Obama crowd was energetic to begin with, and was even more so after Obama weighed in on OSU’s men’s basketball team, which played Thursday against Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16, and was one of the president’s picks to reach the Final Four.
“I think Sullinger is going to have a big game tonight,” Obama said. “And I promise you I didn’t (pick OSU to go to the Final Four) because I knew I was coming here because I am cold-blooded when it comes to filling out my brackets. So I genuinely think you guys are looking good.”
When Obama listed the four Ohio teams in the Sweet 16, a record for any state, he was met with a chorus of boos when he mentioned Cincinnati. (The other two teams are Xavier and Ohio.)
“I’m not going to get in the middle of this,” Obama said. “I do want to just say no state has ever done this before. So it’s a testimony to Ohio basketball.”
Despite OSU President E. Gordon Gee not being attendance because he was out of state, Obama further showed his affection for OSU by later gesturing the school’s staple O-H-I-O cheer.
That early energy briefly subsided, however.
About halfway through his speech, Obama stopped to address a heckler who continually shouted during his speech and held up a book, which Obama asked him to pass forward so he could read it.
“Sir, I’m here to speak to these folks,” Obama said. “You can hold your own rally. You’re being rude.”
Though it was unclear what the man was shouting about, a group of students protested Obama’s Keystone XL plan outside the RPAC. The plan would extend the Keystone Pipeline, which will pump oil from Canada through the Midwest.
Obama went on to address oil consumption and drilling. He said the U.S. has produced more oil right now than at any point in the last eight years, and said the number of operating oil rigs has quadrupled to a record high.
Drilling is not the problem, Obama said.
“There are probably a few spots where we’re not drilling, it’s true,” Obama said. “I’m not drilling in the South Lawn. We’re not drilling next to the Washington Monument. We’re not drilling in Ohio Stadium.”
However, Obama said America uses 20 percent of the world’s oil, but only has 2 percent of the world’s reserves.
Even if the U.S. drilled every square inch of the country, it would still rely on other countries for oil, Obama said.
“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,” Obama said. “We should not be held hostage to events on the other side of the world. This is America. We control our own destiny. We forge our own future. And I will not accept an energy strategy that traps us in the past.”
Obama called his energy strategy an “all-of-the-above” strategy, saying he will develop and invest oil and gas safely, but also wind and solar power, biofuels, next-generation nuclear reactors, and vehicles and homes that are more energy efficient.
He said by the middle of the next decade, cars will average 55 miles per gallon, which will save the average family $8,000 at the pump over the life of a car.
“And we’ll do it by harnessing the same type of American ingenuity and imagination that’s on display right here at Ohio State,” Obama said.
At OSU and across the U.S., Obama said.
“I am not going to cede the wind and solar and advanced battery industries to countries like China and Germany that are making those investments,” Obama said. “I want those technologies developed and manufactured here in Ohio, here in the Midwest, here in America.”
Before delivering his speech at the RPAC, Obama appeared at the Center for Automotive Research’s shop on Kinnear Road. The team houses the Buckeye Bullet, an electric vehicle that holds multiple speeds records and has traveled north of 300 mph.
The Buckeye Bullet team is now attempting to surpass speeds of 400 mph, Obama said.
“I don’t know who’s going to need to go that fast,” Obama said, “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.”
Undergraduate Student Government President Nick Messenger said OSU will provide many of the minds needed to implement Obama’s energy initiatives.
“It’s students at Ohio State, regardless of their political belief, who are engineering students, who are environmental engineering students, who are focusing on environmental policy, who are going to lead the way for the next generation of really achieving this goal of getting off foreign oil and looking for clean solutions,” Messenger said.
Vijay Gadepally, president of the Council of Graduate Students and a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering, opened for the president.
Gadepally said “it was difficult” opening for a good speaker like Obama, but also said it was “a lot of fun.” He said he got to meet the president.
He also said he agreed with the president that the U.S. needs to continue exploring alternative sources for energy, such as wind and solar power.
“I think the current trends and the amount of energy we’re using today, we need to look for brand new ways of utilizing resources that we already have existing,” Gadepally said.
Others were not as supportive of Obama’s plan.
A group of Ron Paul supporters congregated outside of RPAC, holding up signs. Paul has been the U.S. Representative for Texas’s 14th Congressional District since 1997. He ran for president in 1988 as a Libertarian and in 2008 as a Republican. He is also running this year.
John Thomas, 46, of Columbus, and Patrick Raymond, also 46 and from Columbus, said the U.S. is not at a point to need to explore energy alternatives.
“It’s awful,” Thomas said of Obama’s energy plan. “Our dependence on foreign oil – I think enough studies have been done – we have enough energy resources, from what I understand, to last us 250 years. So us being preemptiv
e in wars – to be after other countries’ resources – it costs American lives, it’s cost lives overseas. It’s just totally unnecessary.”
Other students had a more positive reaction to the president.
“I thought it was awesome,” said Zach Jeffers, a first-year in political science. “It’s been consistent with the rest of the speeches throughout the country so far. I think he’s got a good message. He’s got the stuff behind him – he’s proven his point. He’s not just saying stuff that’s a bunch of hoopla.”
Ryan Crell, a first-year in electrical computer engineering, also said he liked Obama’s speech.
“I thought it was inspiring for his election year,” he said. “It’s an election year so he’s trying to get votes. And I really like the idea of sustainable energy and all the new wind and solar power.”
Representatives from OSU College Republicans and College Democrats, as well as the Ohio Republican Party and Ohio Governor John Kasich, did not immediately return requests for comment.
Obama called politicians against sustainable energy “charter members of the Flat Earth Society,” referencing those who once believed the Earth was flat. He said “there will always be cynics and naysayers who just want to keep on doing the same things the same way that we’ve always done them.”
“Then we wouldn’t have a black President, but we do!” one audience member said in response.