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A Walmart in North Dakota. / Martha Irvine, AP

President Obama's supporters generally like his energy program, but some don't like the location of his energy speech on Friday: A Wal-Mart in northern California.

"Wal-Mart is one of the nation's largest and worst employers ?? low wages, unreliable hours, few benefits, discrimination against women, and anti-union," said former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich in a Facebook posting.

In a post entitled "Department of Ill-Advised Photo Opportunities," Reich also criticized Wal-Mart's environmental record and asked: "What numbskull in the White House arranged this?"

Pam Ramos, who has worked at Mountain View, Calif., Wal-Mart for four years, said that "when I heard President Obama was visiting my store, I wanted to tell him what income inequality really looks like ?? right here working at a company that made $17 billion last year."

In an op-ed for Salon, Ramos said she brings home about $400 every two weeks, and "that's not enough to pay for bills, gas and food. All I can afford to eat for lunch is a cup of coffee and a bag of potato chips."

As for the environment, Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said in an op-ed that "Wal-Mart's wind and solar projects supply just 3 percent of its U.S. electricity -- and that's down from 4 percent two years ago."

Wal-Mart says its wages and benefits are competitive in the retail industry, and that it is committed to improving the environment.

White House officials said Walmart on Friday will commit to double the number of on-site solar energy projects at its U.S. facilities. Solar power, energy efficiency and renewable energy are topics of Obama's speech.

"The Wal-Mart commitment is a significant commitment, and that's one of the reasons the president is going to be there," said Dan Utech, special assistant to Obama for energy and climate change.

In his speech, Obama praised Wal-Mart's record on clean energy, and that other companies are following suit.

"We know that if we do, it's going to save us ultimately money and create jobs over the long term," Obama said. "That's what Wal-Mart understands, and Wal-Mart is pretty good at counting its pennies."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

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