A White House spokesman, Clark Stevens, said Obama believes that renewable-energy innovations will break U.S. dependence on foreign oil and provide thousands of new jobs. The clean-tech sector is filled with success stories, he said.
“The president will continue to support these initiatives and highlight the American ingenuity, the people and the private-sector companies that are helping to generate jobs and foster our nation’s 21st-century clean-energy economy,” Stevens said.
A gusher of cash
In the 2008 presidential race, Obama promised to invest at least $150 billion over 10 years in innovative energy projects, and he corralled extensive support from energy start-ups and venture capitalists. As a candidate, he was the “first that got the importance of emerging-growth companies in creating jobs,” said Mark Heesen, president of the National Venture Capital Association.
Obama collected twice as much campaign money from this group as did his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). Numerous green-energy investors raised money for Obama and later won jobs or advisory roles in his administration.
The president laid out his agenda in his first State of the Union address, saying that a recession-strapped government must invest in clean energy to “build a new foundation for lasting prosperity.”
There was intense competition for clean-tech stimulus dollars. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said his agency reviewed 50,000 applicants and chose 5,000, a 90 percent rejection rate.
For the winners, there was an added bonus when Obama or his Cabinet secretaries dropped by to tout progress. “You couldn’t get that kind of publicity if you devoted all your advertising budget to it,” said Brendan Doherty, an assistant professor at the U.S. Naval Academy who has studied and written about presidential travel.
Obama began his clean-tech travel in March 2009. At a number of companies the president visited, there were connections — not all of them close, to be sure — to his 2008 campaign. Over the months, Obama touted a Florida’s utility’s electric grid project (a company in an Obama fundraiser’s portfolio was doing extensive business with the project) and a Nevada company that generates emission-free power from waste heat, the warmth radiated by machines or industrial processes (an Obama fundraiser is a partner in a venture fund that has a small stake in the company).
A White House spokesman said these connections were purely coincidental. Numerous factors — including location, accessibility to airports and media accommodations — help decide where Obama will travel, the spokesman said. He said employees and investors in some companies visited by Obama also donated to Republicans and to the president’s 2008 Democratic opponents.