LARGO, Md. -- Vigorously defending his policies, President Barack Obama ridiculed critics of renewable energy sources Thursday, calling them naysayers and comparing them to the flat-earthers of yesteryear.
Obama did not mention his detractors by name, merely referring to them as "professional politicians."
But his targets were clear.
"A lot of the folks who are running for a certain office who shall go unnamed, they've been talking down new sources of energy," Obama told a crowd of students at Prince George's Community College in Washington's Maryland suburbs.
"They dismiss wind power. They dismiss solar power. They make jokes about biofuels. They were against raising fuel standards. I guess they like gas-guzzlers," he said. "If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail, they probably must have been founding members of the flat earth society. They would not believe that the world was round."
One of his most vocal critics recently has been Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has referred to Obama as "President Algae" for speaking of research that one day would allow oil and gas to be developed from algae.
Obama argued that the U.S. is producing more oil than at any time in the past eight years and has quadrupled the number of operating oil rigs.
Republican candidates seeking the White House criticized the sharp rise in gas prices on Obama's watch. The average retail price for a gallon of gas was $3.81 on Wednesday, 50 cents higher than a month ago.
In a Fox News interview shortly before Obama spoke, Mitt Romney said Obama should "absolutely" be held responsible for high gasoline prices because "he has not pursued policies that convince the world that America is going to become energy secure, energy independent."
Romney said Obama has delayed drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico and in a national wildlife refuge in Alaska. He also criticized the president for not going forward with the Keystone oil pipeline from Canada to Texas, and for policies pursued by the Environmental Protection Agency.
"So the world believes that America's not going to have the energy we need and we're going to have to continue to send hundreds of billions of dollars out of our economy, going into other nations" to pay for fuel, instead of tapping domestic resources, Romney said.
Before an enthusiastic audience, Obama argued that drilling for new oil alone would not solve the country's energy problems, let alone lead to lower gas prices at the pump now. Straying from his text, he joked: "We're drilling all over this country. I guess there's some empty spots where we're not drilling. We're not at the national mall. We're not drilling at your house."
He also compared his critics to former President Rutherford B. Hayes, who served from 1877 to 1881, quoting him as having once said about the telephone: "It's a great invention but who would ever want to use one?"
"That's why he's not on Mt. Rushmore," Obama cracked. "Because he was looking backwards, he was not looking forward."