- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 30, 2011

With gas prices climbing, President Obama on Wednesday laid out broad goals for boosting U.S. energy production, drawing praise from environmentalists who said he is moving in the right direction, but scorn from energy advocates who say he’s still not doing enough to promote American oil.

Emphasizing domestic sources of renewable energy, Mr. Obama said his strategy would reduce the amount of oil the U.S. imports by one-third over the next decade. But critics said the president didn’t lay out enough specifics in his speech to an audience at Georgetown University, and said that makes it unlikely he can translate his goals into an actual plan that can be adopted by Congress.

Mr. Obama, delivering his energy message amid a surge in gasoline prices nationwide, called for expanding domestic oil sources, boosting the use of natural gas and biofuels and setting more ambitious auto-efficiency standards, including the first-ever standards for heavy trucks.

“The United States of America cannot afford to bet our long-term prosperity, our long-term security on a resource that will eventually run out, and even before it runs out will get more and more expensive to extract from the ground,” Mr. Obama told an audience at Georgetown University. “We can’t afford it when the costs to our economy, our country, and our planet are so high.”

But even as he sought to highlight alternative fuel sources, Mr. Obama hit back at critics who have accused his administration of slow-walking new deep-water drilling permits in the wake of last April’s disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"The United States of America cannot afford to bet our long-term prosperity, our long-term security on a resource that will eventually run out, and even before it runs out will get more and more expensive to extract from the ground," President Obama said of oil in an address on energy policy at Georgetown University on Wednesday. (Associated Press)
“The United States of America cannot afford to bet our long-term prosperity, ... more >

Saying oil production in 2010 reached its highest level since 2003, the president said the claim he shut down oil production “is simply untrue.” He said, his administration is focused on drilling responsibly and plans to use new incentives — including shorter lease terms — to encourage oil firms holding federal leases to develop them.

For its part, industry advocates dismissed Mr. Obama’s speech, blasting him for telling the president of Brazil during his recent Latin American tour that the U.S. will be a “major customer” of the country’s newly discovered oil.

“The Obama anti-energy agenda has decreased expected production in the Gulf of Mexico by 360,000 barrels of oil per day,” said Thomas Pyle, president of the industry-backed Institute for Energy Research.

“The outer continental shelf holds at least 80 billion barrels of oil — four times as much as the ‘two percent’ the president says we have — but the Obama administration either refuses to offer those resources for lease or refuses to grant permits to explore for and produce these resources,” he said.

Mr. Obama said the U.S. still couldn’t meet its long-term energy needs even if producers “drilled every drop of oil out of every single one of the reserves that we possess.” Instead, he said, the nation needs to cultivate natural gas, renewable fuels like ethanol, and nuclear power — even in the wake of the crisis in Japan.

“Those of us who are concerned about climate change, we’ve got to recognize that nuclear power — if it’s safe — can make a significant contribution to the climate change question,” he said. “And I’m determined to ensure that it’s safe.”

Environmental groups praised Mr. Obama’s vision but warned that he must follow through with action, both on Capitol Hill and through the executive branch.

“Ending our oil addiction won’t happen overnight, but it’s time to put the pedal to the metal,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“We expect the president to follow up his clean-energy call-to-action as we approach the budget end-game by making clear his intention to block any and all attempts by Congress to prevent the [Environmental Protection Agency] from updating Clean Air Act safeguards, which protect our health and create a level playing field for clean energy solutions,” she said.