Obama's Energy Policy Takes Center Stage as $4 Gas Prices Loom

Article excerpt

Obama's energy policy will be the subject of the president's three-stop tour starting Wednesday. He wants to deflect criticism that he's not doing enough to fight rising gas prices.

President Obama will put on a hard hat and make a two day road trip to illustrate his energy strategy. On his tour to highlight "American made energy:" a big solar farm in Nevada, oil and gas drilling rigs in New Mexico and a huge storage facility in Oklahoma where a new pipeline will help get the oil to Gulf Coast refineries.

But, will the tour be sufficient to counter Republican sniping over his energy policies and endear him to voters who will soon have to pay $4 a gallon or considerably more at the pump?

From a political standpoint, the Obama tour might be a good idea, say political strategists. Everyday Americans are fuming as they watch the price of gasoline rise at their local gas stations. But they are unsure who to blame: Obama, the oil companies, or the situation in the Middle East.

"The rising price of gas becomes a problem to the degree Obama is blamed," says Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. "This is not an issue he can ignore."

Even while Obama was flying west, the price of gasoline at the pump continued to rise. On Wednesday, according to AAA, the national average jumped 2 cents a gallon compared with Tuesday and up 30 cents a gallon from a month ago.

More increases are on the way. Within the next two weeks, refiners will start to shift over to the summer blend of gasoline, which is more expensive to produce. "On a wholesale basis that boutique blend of gasoline sells for 17 cents to 22 cents more than the gasoline we use now," says Tom Kloza, the publisher of Oil Price Information Service (OPIS) in Brick, N.J. "When the wholesale goes up like that, the retail price goes with it."

But Pew Research Center president Andrew Kohut, speaking at Monitor Breakfast on March 14, said gasoline prices are a big question mark for both the Republicans and Democrats. In Pew surveys, he says any optimism about the economy, especially as more jobs are created, is offset by bad news about gasoline prices.

"We continue to get only about 10 percent of the American public saying that the economy is either excellent or good," said Mr. Kohut.

However, Republican political strategist Leslie Sorrell of the Magnolia Group in Dallas calls the trip "window dressing."

Despite Obama's claims that the oil industry is producing more oil domestically than any time in the last eight years, Ms. Sorrell maintains the Obama administration has "tied the oil industries hands."

"People say they cannot get a permit," says Sorrell. "We are passionate about it here in Texas."

According to the White House, the goal of the trip is to illustrate the president's policy of diversification of energy supplies, particularly renewable energy sources. However, the trip also illustrates some of the challenges facing US companies and Obama's energy policy.

First stop: solar energy

For example, Obama's first stop is in Boulder City, Nev., to visit the Copper Mountain Solar 1 Facility, which the White House calls "the largest photovoltaic plant operating in the country." With nearly one million solar panels, the plant supplies enough energy to power 17,000 homes.

However, the US solar industry is struggling. US-made panels only represent about one-third of the panels sold. Chinese-made solar panels now represent more than half of the market.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration said it would impose tariffs of 2. …