- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 25, 2012

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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