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Obama Heading West to Counter His Energy Critics

Obama Heading West to Counter His Energy Critics

By Alexis Simendinger - March 20, 2012


President Obama this week will wend his way through Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Ohio to explain why he has little power to lower gasoline prices, and why he has a long-term energy strategy that he believes can reduce the effects of pump price fluctuations in the long term.

When would the president's strategy pay off? The benefits of Obama's approach are ongoing, the White House said Monday, even if gasoline prices keep rising because of global market activity out of the president’s control.

“I think it’s, if you keep at it, it’s a process that improves continually,” spokesman Jay Carney said. “We’ve already seen our reliance on foreign imports decline in the last three years. We’ve already seen an increase in domestic oil production. We’ve already seen increases in renewable energy production. We’ve put into place fuel-efficiency standards that will have significant impact in terms of reducing our demand for foreign oil. So, all of these things will have a cumulative effect to reduce the portion of our energy consumption that comes from foreign sources, and by doing that, reduce the impact of fluctuations in the global oil market on average Americans.”

This month the president has delivered numerous campaign-style speeches in which he criticizes Republican detractors for an over-reliance on increased domestic oil drilling as the answer to high-priced gasoline. Drilling is part of the answer to rising gas prices, he agrees, but just a part.

During a stop Wednesday in Boulder City, Nev., the president will focus his attention on solar power as an alternative source that complements his “all of the above” energy strategy. Near Carlsbad, N.M., where there are more than 70 active oil rigs, Obama will laud his administration’s commitment to increased oil and gas drilling on federal lands.

On Thursday at Ohio State University in Columbus, Obama will showcase energy research and development, and earlier that day, he’ll be in Stillwater, Okla., where he will endorse the portion of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project that will stretch from Oklahoma to Texas. Although the president has declined to issue a permit for the same pipeline project from Canada through the West, the administration now applauds the lower end of the project as a means to end an oil transfer bottleneck.

Taken together, these travels are intended to illustrate ingredients in the administration’s energy strategy, and to help persuade the public that the administration is already doing what Republican presidential candidates argue Obama has refused to do.

In other words, the president says policies his Republican challengers favor are his policies, too. He backs domestic oil and gas drilling; investments in alternative fuels; higher fuel efficiency standards to help conserve transportation fuel use; nuclear power; and new technologies that can curb U.S. dependence on petroleum.

The White House is not insisting that Congress pass new energy legislation. But the president is worried that if gasoline prices continue to rise during the summer driving season, voters will hold him responsible for the pain in their wallets, which could cost him in November.

Recent polls show Americans are worried about the cost of gasoline -- which is up 17 percent so far this year -- and are convinced that the president and Congress possess tools to lower prices if they want to.

Americans are more willing now to support new offshore drilling, which suggests that the predominant backing for alternative energy sources that shape Obama’s strategy has narrowed as impatient consumers search for quick solutions to address their woes at the pump, according to a survey released Monday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

In 2008, Obama won Nevada, New Mexico and Ohio against John McCain, and his campaign is trying to repeat those victories. The president is in Nevada and Ohio so often that TV news anchors have joked he should be paying taxes in each. Oklahoma voters, who backed McCain last time, are expected to support a GOP nominee again in November. But the president’s visit to Stillwater is intended to short-circuit Republican arguments that Obama favored his liberal base instead of Keystone’s potential for new oil and new jobs.

During a conference call with reporters Monday to dissect Mitt Romney’s economic agenda, the Obama campaign team complained that Republicans have launched attacks against the president using energy facts not currently in evidence. Romney, appearing on “Fox News Sunday” this week, said Obama’s secretaries of energy and interior and his administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency should be fired because, he asserted, they favored higher gas prices to curb consumption.

The arguments from Republicans that Obama favors high gas prices were fact-checked earlier this month by the Washington Post and earned three Pinocchios.

Asked Monday if Obama’s energy speeches and numerous events are working to counter public opinion about the president and gas prices, the campaign’s objections to Romney’s rhetoric suggest the answer is “not yet.”

“They’re completely distorting the record,” Ben LaBolt, Obama’s campaign spokesman, said. 

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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