- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2012

Four years ago, presidential candidate Barack Obama held a photo-op news conference at a gas station near Indianapolis to decry the nation’s ineffective energy policy and complain about “gas that’s approaching $4 a gallon.”

At the time, the price of a gallon of regular unleaded at Joe’s Junction was $3.55.

Nowadays, the price of gas at the same station under President Obama has topped $3.80, nearly twice what it was when he took office, and presidential spokesman Jay Carney on Monday decried Republican presidential candidates who promise to lower the price at the pump. He said Mr. Obama won’t pander to voters that way.

“What he is not willing to do is to look the American people in the eye and claim that there is a strategy by which he can guarantee the price of gas will be $2.50 at the pump,” Mr. Carney said, citing a figure that Republican Newt Gingrich has said he would achieve as president.

“Any politician who does that is lying, because it just — that strategy does not exist. It is a simple fact that there is no such plan that can guarantee the price of oil or the price at the pump. You have to have an ‘all of the above’ approach,” Mr. Carney said.

The Gingrich campaign fired right back Monday, with spokesman Joe DeSantis saying the former speaker “has the White House running scared and running on empty” while offering “fantasy solutions” to high gas prices.

American voters “want Newt’s $2.50 gas plan to dramatically increase domestic oil production so we can get lower prices at the pump,” Mr. DeSantis said in a statement.

As a poll shows Americans are holding Mr. Obama responsible for soaring gas prices, the president Monday trumpeted an administration report that praises him for reducing the country’s reliance on foreign oil.

“We have made progress, with imports of foreign oil decreasing by a million barrels a day in the last year alone,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. “Our focus on increased domestic oil and gas production, currently at an eight-year high, combined with the historic fuel-economy standards we put in place, means that we will continue to reduce our nation’s vulnerability to the ups and downs of the global oil market.”

To highlight the interagency report, Mr. Obama scheduled interviews Monday at the White House with television stations from eight markets across the nation — Los Angeles; Denver; Austin, Texas; Des Moines, Iowa; Orlando, Fla.; Cincinnati; Las Vegas; and Pittsburgh. Six of those cities — Los Angeles and Austin being the exceptions — are in 2012 battleground states.

Even before the president could give those interviews, however, the price of gas at the pumps rose again. The motorist advocacy group AAA said the national average price for a gallon of gasoline rose nine-tenths of a cent to higher than $3.80. Prices rose 3.4 cents per gallon over the weekend.

Last year at this time, the average price of gasoline stood at $3.56 per gallon.

A spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said the report underscores that Mr. Obama isn’t focused on the immediate issue of higher gasoline prices.

“With this report, the president is celebrating his recipe for $4 or $5 gas,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said. “Poll after poll show Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of the president’s work on gas prices. And rather than embrace Republican efforts to increase American energy production, all he’s offering is a history lesson of how we got here.”

Voters are showing signs of holding Mr. Obama responsible. Almost two-thirds of Americans, 65 percent, said they disapprove of the way Mr. Obama is dealing with rising prices at the pump, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll published Monday. Only 26 percent — Mr. Obama’s lowest rating in the poll — said they approve of his handling of the issue, while a majority, 52 percent, said they “strongly” disapprove.

The president’s overall job approval has suffered as well with high gasoline prices. His approval rating in the poll is 46 percent, down from 50 percent in the same poll last month.

Mr. Obama said high gas prices “are a painful reminder that there’s much more work to do to free ourselves from our dependence on foreign oil and take control of our energy future.”

“And that’s exactly what our administration is committed to doing in the months ahead,” he said.

To discuss the report, the White House presented not Energy Secretary Steven Chu, but Interior Secretary Kenneth L. Salazar and Heather Zichal, a presidential adviser on energy policy. Mr. Chu garnered negative headlines last week when he testified to Congress that lowering gas prices was not the overall goal of the administration’s energy policy.

Mr. Salazar said one of the options to lower gas prices would be to release oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

“All options are at the table because the president obviously feels the pain that the American people are facing with respect to gas prices,” Mr. Salazar said.

Administration officials also are citing unrest in the Middle East as a cause of higher gas prices. In June, when the revolution in Libya was blamed in part for rising prices, Mr. Chu announced that the U.S. would lead an international effort to tap petroleum reserves, including dipping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to replace some of the lost oil production.

At the time, the 28 nations that make up the International Energy Agency — which was formed to respond to major disruptions in oil supply — agreed to release a total of 60 million barrels of oil. Half of that was to come from the U.S. reserve.

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve holds the world’s largest emergency supply of oil, more than 700 million barrels in underground salt domes along the Gulf of Mexico. Presidents can tap it at their discretion; President George H.W. Bush did so in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm, and President George W. Bush did in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.

Mr. Obama proposed during the 2008 campaign to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve when the price of gas rose to about $4 per gallon. But prices had fallen to less than $2 per gallon by the time he took office in January 2009, when there was no longer talk of taking such action.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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