STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania President Barack Obama announced a new clean energy program in Pennsylvania on Thursday, seeking to show he remains focused on jobs in a state that may be essential to his 2012 re-election prospects.
Obama outlined a plan in his State of the Union address last month to encourage clean energy technologies and to double by 2035 the U.S. share of electricity from clean energy sources such as wind, solar, nuclear and "clean" coal.
As part of that program, Obama announced a plan to improve energy efficiency in U.S. commercial buildings by offering businesses incentives to help pay for upgrades of offices, stores and other buildings, which he said consume 40 percent of the energy Americans use, and could save $40 billion a year.
"Making our buildings more energy efficient is one of the fastest, easiest and cheapest ways to save money, combat pollution and create jobs right here in the United States of America," Obama told a jammed sports hall at the Pennsylvania State University.
"To get the private sector to lead by example, I'm also issuing a challenge to CEOs, to labor, to building owners, to hospitals, universities and others, to join us," he said.
Former President Bill Clinton and General Electric Co Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt will lead this outreach to the private sector, a White House official said. Obama tapped Immelt last month as his top outside economic adviser to chair a presidential panel on jobs and competitiveness.
Obama's push for the United States to build a green economy is part of a global race to dominate what is seen as a potentially huge industry in solar, wind and other alternative energies that offer wealth and energy independence.
"OUT-INNOVATE AND OUT-EDUCATE"
With U.S. unemployment at 9.4 percent despite signs of economic recovery, Obama's push for green energy jobs is an important part of his high-stakes effort to tackle joblessness -- the problem most on the minds of voters, even as issues like the turmoil in Egypt dominate the headlines.
"If we want those jobs and businesses to thrive in the United States of America, we are going to have to out-innovate and out-educate and out-build the rest of the world," he said.
Obama's Better Buildings Initiative is meant to achieve a 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency by 2020, reduce companies' and business owners' energy bills by about $40 billion per year and save energy, the White House said.
"This initiative has the potential to really unlock a large amount of investment, some of which is sitting on the sidelines right now ... and create jobs at a time when that has to be our central focus," a senior Obama administration official said on Wednesday.
Administration officials would not detail the plan's cost but said it would be paid for by ending tax subsidies for oil, natural gas and other fossil fuels. The proposal needs congressional approval and that might be a tough sell on Capitol Hill.
Obama took Pennsylvania with a margin of more than 10 percentage points over Republican challenger John McCain when he won the presidency in 2008. In 2010, the state's voters backed Republicans for governor, a U.S. Senate seat and a majority of its seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
(Editing by Will Dunham)