By ANNE GEARAN
MOUNT HOLLY, NC (AP) -- President Barack Obama on Wednesday made his most urgent appeal yet for the nation to wean itself from oil, calling it a "fuel of the past" and demanding that the United States broaden its approach to energy.
Mindful of the political dangers of high gas prices, he said shrinking demand for oil must drive the solution.
Obama, promoting his energy policies in a state that figures prominently in the presidential election and will host the Democratic National Convention, called on Congress to provide $1 billion in grants to local communities to encourage greater use of fuel-efficient technologies. The administration's goal is to make electric vehicles as affordable and convenient as gasoline-powered vehicles by 2020.
The president also proposed greater tax incentives to encourage the purchase and use of more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Gasoline prices are at their highest levels for this time of year and Obama has been traveling in recent weeks to promote energy proposals he says will reduce foreign oil dependency over the long term.
"We need to invest in the technology that will help us use less oil in our cars and our trucks, and our buildings, and our factories," Obama said. "That's the only solution to the challenge. Because as we start using less, that lowers the demand, prices come down. Pretty straightforward."
The president spoke at a Daimler truck plant in Mount Holly. North Carolina is a state with political implications for his re-election. He traveled there as the Republican field seeking to defeat him in November remains unsettled. Mitt Romney squeezed out a win in pivotal Ohio on Tuesday, captured five other states and padded his delegate lead in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. But the front-runner was forced to share the Super Tuesday spotlight with a resurgent Rick Santorum.
Republicans have been pointedly critical of Obama, blaming his energy policies for the spike in gasoline prices. Gingrich has argued that as president, he would reduce the price of gasoline to $2.50 a gallon.
Without naming Gingrich, Obama dismissed his claim.
"Next time you hear some politician trotting out some three point plan for $2 gas, you let him know we know better," Obama said. "Tell him we're tired of hearing phony election year promises that never come about."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)