President Barack Obama is looking to bolster U.S. oil drilling, announcing Saturday a preemptive strike against bolder efforts from Capitol Hill as consumer unrest deepens over the price at the pump.
The White House will move forward without congressional action on a set of ideas espoused by Republicans and oil-state Democrats to expand oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska and potentially parts of the Atlantic seaboard.
It’s the closest Obama has come to rivaling his short-lived pro-drilling stance that ended with the BP oil spill.
At the same time, Obama is also firing up the liberal Democratic base by urging Congress to repeal billions of dollars in oil-industry tax incentives and to raise fees against companies that do not act quickly on drilling leases they own.
“Without a doubt, one of the biggest burdens over the last few months has been the price of gasoline,” Obama said in his fourth weekly address in a row and fifth in seven weeks to touch on energy issues.
Gas prices are now averaging more than $4 a gallon in many areas ahead of the start of the summer driving season, when prices usually peak.
The situation is precarious for Obama, who must balance the need to work with a starkly divided Congress against his own effort to win a second term.
“These spikes in gas prices are often temporary, and while there are no quick fixes to the problem, there are a few steps we should take that make good sense,” Obama said.
Attorney General Eric Holder is leading a task force investigating possible fraud, manipulation and illegal activity by traders and speculators that might be leading to the spike in prices.
But drilling is where the political problems lie for the White House. Republicans and oil-state Democrats have continued to criticize Obama and the Interior Department for what they say is a dramatic slowdown in new permits off and on shore.
“[W]e should increase safe and responsible oil production here at home,” Obama said. “Last year, America’s oil production reached its highest level since 2003. But I believe that we should expand oil production in America — even as we increase safety and environmental standards.”
Obama is now looking to give a blanket extension to all oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico due to the disruption caused by last year’s Gulf spill and subsequent administration ban and slow-down of drilling permits. By doing so, Obama is at least touching on an idea advocated by Republicans as part of a three-part offshore drilling package the House approved this month.
A senior administration official told reporters Friday that the administration is also looking to complete by the end of the year the first new lease sale in the Gulf since the BP spill — and to have two combined sales finished in the western and central Gulf of Mexico by the middle of next year.
But the GOP-passed bills go further and would require lease sales off the coast of Virginia that the administration canceled in the wake of the BP spill. The measures would also require more areas off the Eastern Seaboard and the California and Alaska coastlines be opened to new drilling.
House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) — the lead sponsor of the House-passed drilling bills — called Obama’s actions “baby steps.”
“One weekend address announcing minor policy tinkering, while positive, does not erase the administration’s long, job-destroying record of locking-up America’s energy resources,” Hastings said in a statement.
Obama received a more favorable initial response from a critic in his own party.
“I’m cautious, implementation will be the key,” Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) told POLITICO Friday. “It’s preemptive but I think he’s hearing … from his own folks in his own party.”
Begich and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) have been highly vocal in criticizing the administration for its pace of expanding production in both the Gulf and the Arctic.
Obama is now expediting the completion of an initial environmental analysis of potential oil and gas resources in the mid-Atlantic and southern Atlantic coastline.
The review is on schedule to be finished in a little over a year and would be a first step in determining where production could be viable and worthwhile, a senior administration official said. “We want to get that answer as quickly as possible,” the official said.
It is possible that this could lead to areas off the Atlantic coast to be added at some point to the administration’s still evolving leasing strategy that runs through 2017, the official said.
Obama also announced he is directing the Interior Department to conduct annual lease sales in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve “while respecting sensitive areas.” The idea is to “regularize” what have been periodic lease sales there, a senior administration official said.
Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — long a symbolic centerpiece over the fight to expand domestic drilling — remains “off the table, and we do not support development there,” a senior administration official said.
The administration also will put together what one senior official deemed a “high-level interagency group” to expedite permitting off the coastline of Alaska.
Begich has offered legislation that would establish a federal coordinator to expedite permitting of offshore leases in the icy Arctic waters off Alaska.
But in a move sure to rankle Republicans and some Democrats, Obama is continuing his push to add pressure on companies to use existing leases they own, considering a new “graduated fee” structure that essentially rewards those who act on their leases quickly, a senior administration official said.
Final details were not provided and may not be settled. “There could be a sliding scale of royalties” companies would have to pay, the official said. For instance, companies could pay a lower royalty if they develop their leases within the first three years.
Obama also railed against the need for oil-industry tax incentives ahead of Senate action Wednesday on an effort to repeal $21 billion in incentives over 10 years for the five biggest private integrated oil firms.
“The American people shouldn’t be subsidizing oil companies at a time when they’re making near-record profits,” Obama said. “As a nation, we should be investing in the clean, renewable sources of energy that are the ultimate solution to high-gas prices.”
The Senate Democratic plan would put the money saved toward reducing the deficit and not direct it toward programs aimed at reducing oil dependence.
Despite Obama’s backing, opposition from Republicans and Democrats like Begich and Landrieu is likely to derail the measure in the Senate, and it would be dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled House.
... Obama is also firing up the liberal Democratic base by urging Congress to repeal billions of dollars in oil-industry tax incentives and to raise fees against companies that do not act quickly on drilling leases they own.
Barack Obama is "Present" voting ditherer, incapable of any original thoughts or ideas.
That being said, it's his handlers who print words for Obama to read off of a teleprompter.
And those words are all lies. Obama's handlers will say and do anything to get Obama re-elected in 2012.
The question is, are the 2008 Obama "Change" voters, mostly liberals and democrats, going to allow themselves to be take in again?
Will Obama's handlers eventually allow the oil industry tax breaks to continue like Obama's handlers continued the Bush tax cuts (after repeatedly denouncing them)?
Many liberals and democrats no longer believe anything that Obama reads off of his teleprompter.
Obama has followed through on the great majority of this campaign promises. Gitmo was his big break but we are talking about 9 out of 10 promises he's followed through on... and he made literally hundreds of promises in the campaign.