President Obama began a two-day tour-de-energy today as the administration put a full-court press on an issue that could leave him vulnerable in a campaign season: energy costs that keep stinging consumers.
Or, as press secretary Jay Carney put it on Air Force One en route to the first stop in Nevada, it’s an effort to show “indisputable, incontrovertible, immutable, inexorable facts” that Obama is increasing domestic oil production and reducing dependence on foreign oil.
“I understand that, as we’ve seen for weeks now, there is a sustained effort to try to achieve some political gain out of the challenge presented to average folks out there by the price of gas at the pump,” Carney said. “But the reality is oil and gas production in the United States has increased under President Obama; reliance on foreign oil has decreased significantly under President Obama. We have made clear that some of the trend, especially in the increase in domestic production, is due to policies of the previous administration, but it is due also to the actions that this administration has taken.”
And the White House was determined to hammer that messaging into the minds of voters this week.
Obama’s first stop was the Copper Mountain solar plant in Boulder City, Nev. He toured the plant for a few minutes, accompanied by senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, rolling up his sleeves and asking questions of company officials.
The White House preceded this first stop by sending fact sheets to reporters: the Obama Administration’s All-of-the-Above Approach to American Energy and the Obama Administration Commitment to American Made Energy.
“Today, President Obama highlighted his Administration’s focus on a sustained, all-of-the-above approach to developing American energy, which has included doubling renewable electricity generation, increasing oil and gas production on federal lands and waters, and reducing our reliance on foreign oil, most notably through the historic fuel economy standards the President has established, which will nearly double the efficiency of the vehicles we drive and save families $1.7 trillion at the pump,” the latter said, highlighting nuclear energy, “developing a smarter grid” for energy, biofuel research and “building vehicles with materials that are stronger and lighter.”
Obama stopped to deliver remarks “at this flat, beautiful land,” marveling at the solar “industry on the rise” and taking credit for opening up federal lands to solar businesses.
“One member of Congress who shall remain unnamed called these jobs ‘phony’ — called them phony jobs,” the president said. “I mean, think about that mindset, that attitude that says because something is new, it must not be real. If these guys were around when Columbus set sail, they’d be charter members of the Flat Earth Society.”
“We know that some discoveries won’t pan out,” he quipped. “There’s the VCR and the Beta and the — all that stuff.”
Obama encouraged making investments “in stuff that is new, and we stop subsidizing stuff that’s old.”
Aside from hitting at oil companies and saying that the U.S. doesn’t have enough oil reserves to meet its demand anyway, the president saved his drilling remarks — assured to have a friendlier tone — for his next stops.
After Nevada, the president traveled to Roswell, New Mexico, to tour oil and gas production fields on federal lands outside of Maljamar.
On Thursday, Obama makes a strategic stop in Cushing, Okla., to expound upon his halfway flip-flop on one portion of the Keystone project.
Here, Obama will announce an executive order “on improving performance of federal permitting and review of infrastructure projects,” as well as a presidential memorandum directing federal agencies to expedite the portion of the Keystone XL pipeline from Cushing to the Gulf of Mexico.
“Because many permitting and review decisions for significant infrastructure projects involve multiple Federal agencies, the Executive Order sets up a Steering Committee chaired by the Office of Management and Budget’s Chief Performance Officer and composed of relevant Federal agencies and directs it to develop a Federal government-wide plan by the end of May that includes clear deliverables and timelines for reducing the amount of time it takes to make permitting and review decisions,” the White House said in its announcement.
“…It is critical that we make pipeline infrastructure a top priority. …This Presidential Memorandum builds on a strong record of accomplishment.”
Republican Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), John Thune (R-S.D), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and David Vitter (R-La.) will respond to the Cushing visit with a press conference on the Hill directly afterward.
“President Obama’s visit just highlights that he is continuing to obstruct construction of the Keystone XL project while gas prices continue to rise for American consumers,” Hoeven’s office said in announcing the planned rebuttal. “The fact is, the southern portion of the project doesn’t require presidential approval because it doesn’t cross an international border. It requires approval by only state authorities, the Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies.”
Not that Republicans have been resting on their laurels waiting for the president to come back to Washington. On Tuesday, Lugar lashed out at the administration at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee nomination hearing for the first assistant secretary of State who would be devoted entirely to energy issues.
“Given the multiple crises in the Middle East, and the certainty that threats to oil supplies are not limited to the current Iran situation, President Obama did not act in our national interest when he rejected approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline,” Lugar said. ”Even his own Energy Department says that Keystone would help lower gasoline prices. After more than three years of State Department review, one must conclude that it was presidential politics, not lack of time which led the president to reject the pipeline.”
Obama wraps up Thursday at Ohio State University in Columbus to tour the Center for Automotive Research — namely, electric cars.
While he was away today, a group of liberal senators advanced a strategy of blaming pump prices on rampant speculation by introducing a bill that would order federal regulators to “invoke emergency powers to rein in crude oil market speculators responsible for rapidly rising gas prices,” said the office of sponsor Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
The bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), gives the Commodity Futures Trading Commission a 14-day deadline to implement trading limits outlined in the Wall Street reform law.
“To combat excessive gas prices we need a crackdown on out of control speculation and gambling in oil markets,” Blumenthal said. ”This agency — inactive for too long — must be compelled to act, stopping manipulation and abuses that cost consumers and endanger our fragile economic recovery. Emergency powers of the CFTC must be used now to correct market dysfunction and disruption driving up prices at the pump.”
Blumenthal asked Attorney General Eric Holder on Sunday to probe and punish “excessive speculation” in the oil markets.