- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama is going on the road to pitch his energy plan _ as well as environmentally friendly jobs production _ in a hard-hit Iowa town, while administration officials make a similar push back in Washington.

The White House’s Earth Day message comes as Obama has watched his energy legislation stall in Congress. Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency chief and energy and transportation secretaries all were scheduled to testify before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Wednesday with themes similar to Obama, who planned a swift visit to economically struggling Newton, Iowa.

White House aides said the president would highlight his plans to create jobs and protect the environment. He planned to tour _ then tout _ Newton’s Trinity Structural Towers wind energy plant as a model for job creation and energy production in a town whose biggest employer was sold and then stopped operations.

Newton’s Maytag Corp. appliances plant closed in 2007, costing the small city hundreds of jobs. But a year later, the state announced that Trinity Structural Towers would build a $21 million factory on the former Maytag site and employ about 140 workers, in exchange for business incentives and tax breaks.

Obama’s energy plan would drive more investments to companies such as Trinity, which builds the towers that support wind turbines. White House officials said that beyond the boost to the economy that such investment would bring, families also would benefit eventually from lower energy costs.

To that end, the administration’s economic stimulus plan included some $5 billion for low-income weatherization programs and $2 billion for electric car research. Another $500 million was set aside to train workers for “green jobs,” such as those at Trinity Structural Towers.

White House environmental advisers also say the costs of dealing with climate change can be reduced dramatically by adopting programs that will spur energy efficiency and wider use of non-fossil energy such as wind, solar and biofuels.

Yet wind-produced electricity still totals just under 2 percent of all electricity generated, according to the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group.

It’s a small number, but with real effects, Obama aides note: Last year, the U.S. wind industry gained 13,000 direct jobs, and about half of wind turbines’ components are made domestically.

During his political campaign, Obama touted wind as a prime source of renewable energy. Aides say he’s remains steadfast in his support for an energy plan that would reduce greenhouse gases by 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, and 83 percent by mid-century.

Obama’s plan also calls for a series of measures aimed at reducing the use of fossil energy, such as requiring utilities to produce a quarter of their electricity from renewable sources.

But despite its long-term potential, the legislation’s short-term prospects were tough, White House aides acknowledged. Lawmakers from coal-producing states are not keen on Obama’s plan to tax carbon emissions, and Republicans say the potential impact on business could be dangerous.

The House began four days of hearings on climate legislation Tuesday, but the challenge of getting bipartisan support immediately became apparent. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood all planned to reinforce Obama’s message in testimony Wednesday.

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