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Faculty, Students React to Obama Speech

President Obama at McDonough Arena

President Barack Obama told a crowd of more than 1,000 people at McDonough Arena that "there are no quick fixes" on finding solutions for energy issues.

Georgetown students and faculty had a variety of reactions to President Barack Obama’s energy security speech March 30 in McDonough Arena.

Obama, who called for a one-third cut in oil imports by 2020 and advocated for alternative fuels as well as safe nuclear energy, made special attempts to engage the mostly younger crowd.

“There are no quick fixes,” Obama told the crowd of more than 1,000, most of whom were students. “We’re going to have to think long-term [on energy policy], which is why I am here to talk to young people.”

Voice of the Future

Sean Guilday (C’13) said after the speech that he thought “it was pretty cool that [the president] came to Georgetown, especially because he was talking about energy policy and how we had to be the voice for the future.”

But not every student was completely pleased with the talk.

“I was disappointed that his speech was not as focused upon renewable energy sources,” said Samantha Apgar (C’13). “I do still think its very important that we need to incorporate oil into our energy policy given our enormous dependence on it, but I would have liked to have seen much more mention of solar, wind and other forms of renewable sources.”

But she added that “ultimately, we are headed in the right direction.”

Falling Behind

Hope Babcock, a law professor and co-director of the Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation, said what she “intuited” from the president’s speech is that “no single source of fuel is the answer to our energy imbalance; until we learn to conserve more, we need them all.”

“He not only acknowledged the obvious – that there is no ‘quick fix’ to our energy problem,” she said, “but also appeared willing to invest in research into new sources of energy as well as to use a mixture of incentives and regulatory requirements to reduce our dependence on oil.”

Also in attendance at the speech was Joanna Lewis, an assistant professor in the Science, Technology and International Affairs (STIA) at the School of Foreign Service.

“[Obama] noted that the United States has fallen behind countries like China,” said Lewis, who researches China's renewable energy industry and policy development. “It has not been easy for China to become a leader in this area. If we invest more in renewable energy technology there are many opportunities to reduce our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels."

Tinkering Chu

There were several humorous comments in the speech.

Several of his cabinet members were in the audience, including Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Obama said he had asked Chu to work on safety issues involved in extracting natural gas.

“And they chose the right guy to do this  – he’s got a Nobel Prize for physics, after all, “ the president said. “…this is the kind of thing he likes to do on the weekends. He likes to tinker his garage on the weekends and figure out how to extract natural gas.”

Lack of Specifics 

Jessica Robbins (SFS'12) said she was "unimpressed by the lack of specificity" in Obama's address.

"It's great that he's signaling to Congress his intent to do something about America's energy future," she said. "I just wish he spent a bit more time detailing exactly what that was."

But as a student in Georgetown's Science, Technology & International Affairs (STIA) program, she found the opportunity to talk briefly about incentives for U.S. solar panel manufacturers" with Chu "refreshing."

"When he speaks, he uses numbers, and at his talk last year at Georgetown he was accompanied by a massive PowerPoint," said Robbins, one of many STIA students surrounding Chu after the president's speech. "If you're not using a PowerPoint to talk about energy, you're probably not saying much of anything."

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