ARCADIA, FLA. — President Obama declared Tuesday that a "consensus is building" around climate-change legislation and characterized opponents as preoccupied with the past instead of a "clean-energy future."
Standing on the edge of a large solar-power plant here, Obama urged the Senate to pass a measure that caps carbon emissions and to set aside arguments that it would harm the economy and cost jobs.
"The closer we get to this new energy future, the harder the opposition is going to fight, the more we're going to hear from special interests and lobbyists in Washington whose interests are contrary to the interests of the American people," Obama said.
As he spoke to Florida Power & Light employees, the sun was glinting off acres of the utility's solar panels behind him. "It's a debate between looking backwards and looking forward," the president said.
The visit coincided with an announcement by the Obama administration that it will invest $3.4 billion in stimulus funds to modernize the nation's energy grid. About 100 private companies and utilities will receive grants of as much as $200 million each to help build a nationwide "smart grid" meant to improve energy delivery and boost the use of renewable energy sources. Glendale and Burbank each received a $20-million grant to install smart meters to better track water and electricity use.
Obama administration officials said the projects also would create tens of thousands of jobs in the near future, while modernizing the way Americans feed their need for energy.
But as Obama made his way to the field, and then later as he headed toward his third political fundraiser in two days, critics complained that the president was taking a public relations tour on behalf of his economic stimulus program.
"He's on what appears to be a PR swing to try to boost up his own popularity to move legislation and policies that the American people don't want, don't need," said Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.).
At Obama's side in Arcadia stood Lewis Hay III, chairman and chief executive of the FPL Group, which owns the plant. Though he was a major political contributor last year to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Obama's opponent in the presidential election, Hay was clearly in Obama's corner Tuesday. At one point he said the president had "done more to promote renewable energy than anyone."
The Arcadia plant is not a recipient of the grants that Obama announced Tuesday, though company officials say they expect to apply for money under another part of the stimulus act later this week.
Still, Obama pointed to the plant as emblematic of the clean-energy economy that he hopes to spur with this program and others. "Building this 21st century energy infrastructure will help us lay a foundation for lasting growth and prosperity," he said.
Also Tuesday, five administration officials appeared before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to urge passage of climate legislation.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu told the committee that the United States had stumbled in the clean-energy race and that, to catch up, Congress must enact comprehensive energy legislation that puts the first-ever limits on greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.
"The United States . . . has fallen behind," Chu said. "But I remain confident that we can make up the ground."
Republicans expressed concern about the cost of the measure, which would create a system for buying and selling energy permits.
"This is something the American people can't tolerate, and I don't think they will," said Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.).
Obama wrapped up a two-day tour of political and policy events in Florida, heading to Old Dominion University in Virginia to stump for Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds.