President Obama’s indignant defense this week of his administration’s energy policies has done nothing to deter GOP critics, as gas prices continue to rise amid worries that their continued climb could throw the economic recovery off course.
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said in a letter to Mr. Obama Friday that the president was taking a “defeatist view” when it comes to trying to reduce gas prices.
“I reject the defeatist view that says the nation that won two world wars, pioneered space travel, and overcame the Soviet empire is now helpless in the face of high prices at the pump,” Mr. Sessions wrote. “We are not at the mercy of dictators, cartels and events beyond our control.”
In a speech in Miami Thursday, the president blamed the current spike prices on Wall Street speculators reacting to instability in the Middle East, most notably in Iran — not the amount of oil drilled in the U.S.
“There are no quick fixes to this problem,” Mr. Obama said. “You know we can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices.”
In his letter, Mr. Sessions echoed the views of other Republican critics in arguing that lifting Obama administration barriers to drilling would go a long way in helping drive down the price at the pump.
“Powerful action to harness America’s untapped oil and gas resources would place downward pressure on prices and speculation in the short run, and, by surging global supply, would serve to keep prices low in the future,” Mr. Sessions continued. “Crucially, it would also provide millions of Americans with good-paying, private-sector jobs; produce substantial royalties for local, state and federal governments; reduce our enormous trade imbalance; and put an end to our huge wealth transfer from American to competitors overseas.”
Mr. Sessions offered a list of proposals, including restoring the bipartisan 2010-2015 offshore lease plan to ensure that the 31 pending lease sales are completed expeditiously, abandoning Mr. Obama’s proposal to increase taxes and fees for oil and gas companies, and approving the massive Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline and expediting its completion.
“Your administration only directed one lease sale in 2011 and has announced just one lease sale for 2012, far short of the number of sales that would have occurred over this period under the original 2010-2015 plan that your administration discarded,” he wrote.
Mr. Sessions also urged Mr. Obama to “take all necessary steps” to accelerate the leasing and permitting process for domestic shale oil production and maximize oil production from federal lands, which are now producing just 714 million barrels a year — a 16 percent decline from what was projected five years ago.
In addition, the Alabama Republican called on the president to direct the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and other federal bodies to grant all necessary waivers and approvals to oil and gas refineries to facilitate maximum production at minimum cost.
“Refinery expenses comprise 11 percent of the price for gasoline that Americans pay at the pump, but your administration has imposed numerous regulations that have driven refining costs up, not down,” he contended.
A White House spokesman said the president is particularly sensitive to the impact rising gas prices are having on family budgets across the country, but said there’s no silver bullet to solve the problem.
“If your answer to this challenge of rising gas prices is just drilling for oil, you’re not going to find a very good answer because an ‘all-of-the-above’ approach is required,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Friday. “So that also is why the president is pursuing a range of other things: investments in biofuels, in renewable energy, wind and solar.”
The Obama administration is also backing the construction of the first nuclear power plant in the U.S. in 30 years, Mr. Earnest added.
Asked directly whether the president would tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to push down gas prices, Mr. Earnest refused to speculate on internal administration discussions on that topic.
“But what I can tell you is that there are plenty of people involved in the political process who are willing to make phony promises about what they can do to address rising gas prices, that if — and I can tell you that they’re empty promises, that if there were a magic wand that you could wave, one of the previous presidents would have waved it,” he said.
Democrats on Capitol Hill are rushing to defend the president, arguing that Republicans are doing everything they can in an election year to score political points over increased gas prices.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi accused Republicans in a statement of “spouting talking points assigning blame to President Obama, instead of taking action against Wall Street speculators who are driving up the cost of oil, hurting consumers, and potentially damaging our economic recovery.”