White House sure its en­ergy pol­icy is an elec­tion win­ner

GOP ques­tions words vs. ac­tions

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

Wide­spread crit­i­cism from the oil and gas sec­tor hasn’t shaken the White House’s faith that, when given the choice this fall, Amer­i­cans will choose Pres­i­dent Obama’s en­ergy plan over that of his Re­pub­li­can chal­lenger.

“Who do you trust to have the kind of en­ergy pol­icy and en­ergy strat­egy that’s re­quired?” asked David Plouffe, Mr. Obama’s se­nior ad­viser, dur­ing an ap­pear­ance Sun­day on NBC’S “Meet the Press.” “The pres­i­dent, who is say­ing we need to do ev­ery­thing we can here [in the U.S.] to pro­duce, but also boldly dou­ble down on things like so­lar and bio­fu­els? Or the folks that are run­ning against us? They think it’s oil only, and that’s a ter­ri­ble strat­egy for our coun­try.”

With prices at the gas pump ris­ing, en­ergy pol­icy is shap­ing up to be one of the key is­sues in the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Pres­i­dent Obama con­tin­ued last week to push his “all of the above” plan, which he ar­gues will take full ad­van­tage of abun­dant, do­mes­tic oil and nat­u­ral gas re­serves while also push­ing fed­eral in­vest­ment in fu­ture en­ergy sources such as wind and so­lar power.

But Repub­li­cans, along with many in the fos­sil fuel in­dus­try, see clear hypocrisy be­tween the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s words and its ac­tions.

“His rhetoric and his poli­cies are very dif­fer­ent,” for­mer Mis­sis­sippi Gov. Ha­ley Bar­bour, a Re­pub­li­can, said on “Meet the Press.”

Dur­ing this year’s State of the Union ad­dress and in other re­cent speeches, Mr. Obama has touted in­creased nat­u­ral gas pro­duc­tion as a cor­ner­stone in the ef­fort to re­duce the na­tion’s de­pen­dence on for­eign oil. Re­cently dis­cov­ered gas re­serves, par­tic­u­larly in the Mar­cel­lus and Utica shales in the east­ern U.S., could pro­vide at least a cen­tury’s worth of sup­ply, ac­cord­ing to some an­a­lysts.

There are grow­ing signs that the auto in­dus­try, for ex­am­ple, is poised to take ad­van­tage of that fuel. Ma­jor car man­u­fac­tur­ers such as Gen­eral Mo­tors Co. have an­nounced that they will roll nat­u­ral gas-pow­ered ve­hi­cles off the assem­bly line in the next few months. New pipe­lines have been pro­posed to bring nat­u­ral gas from Penn­syl­va­nia to D.C., Bal­ti­more, and other ma­jor met­ro­pol­i­tan mar­kets.

Be­hind the scenes, how­ever, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is tak­ing steps that could greatly ham­per the ex­trac­tion of oil and nat­u­ral gas and could crush the eco­nomic ben­e­fits gen­er­ated by drilling booms.

The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency will re­lease new rules later this year on air emis­sions and po­ten­tial water con­tam­i­na­tion at drilling sites that em­ploy the pop­u­lar “frack­ing” tech­nique. Over­all drilling in the U.S. is up in re­cent years, but the in­creases have come mostly on pri­vate lands. On fed­eral lands, drilling is down dra­mat­i­cally since Mr. Obama took of­fice, and some in­dus­try an­a­lysts see the move to pri­vate land as ev­i­dence that oil and gas com­pa­nies are flee­ing gov­ern­ment-owned prop­erty in an­tic­i­pa­tion of harsh new reg­u­la­tions.

Crit­ics also have taken aim at Mr. Obama’s han­dling of the pro­posed Key­stone XL Pipe­line, a project the ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­jected and one that the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment ve­he­mently op­poses. But last week, at a cam­paign stop in Ok­la­homa, the pres­i­dent expressed sup­port for fast-track­ing the south­ern por­tion of the pipe­line.

Re­pub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates have taken note and are now putting the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s oil and gas reg­u­la­tions front and cen­ter on the cam­paign trail, and they are of­fer­ing an up­dated ver­sion of the “drill baby, drill” ap­proach to en­ergy pol­icy.

“Un­der this pres­i­dent, bu­reau­crats pre­vent drilling rigs from go­ing to work in the Gulf [of Mex­ico]. They keep coal from be­ing mined. They im­pede the re­li­able sup­ply of nat­u­ral gas,” Re­pub­li­can pres­i­den­tial front-run­ner Mitt Rom­ney said dur­ing a speech af­ter his vic­tory in the Illi­nois pri­mary last week. “This ad­min­is­tra­tion’s as­sault on free­dom has kept this so-called re­cov­ery from meet­ing their pro­jec­tions, let alone our ex­pec­ta­tions,”

Mr. Rom­ney’s chief Re­pub­li­can ri­vals, Rick San­to­rum and Newt Gin­grich, also have bashed the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s en­ergy pro­gram on the stump.

They also have crit­i­cized the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s will­ing­ness to fun­nel tax­payer dol­lars to so-called “green” en­ergy ini­tia­tives, such as the $500 mil­lion gov­ern­ment loan to now-de­funct so­lar en­ergy com­pany Solyn­dra LLC, and the hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in tax cred­its of­fered to spur sales of the elec­tric Chevro­let Volt. Pro­duc­tion of the Volt has now been sus­pended by GM be­cause of weak sales.

De­spite those two high-pro­file fail­ures, the Obama re-elec­tion team still sees a po­lit­i­cal up­side to push­ing gov­ern­ment in­vest­ment in “green” tech­nolo­gies.

“This is ac­tu­ally very sad for the coun­try,” Mr. Plouffe said,. “Things like bio­fu­els, wind, so­lar, next gen­er­a­tion au­tos used to be a gen­er­ally bi­par­ti­san is­sue. Now those things are mocked by those in Washington in the Re­pub­li­can Party.”

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