Obama’s Leadership Idles While Gas Prices Redline

March 8, 2011

The President Fails to Lead on Relieving Americans’ Financial Strain As He Re-Ups His Opposition to Expanded Domestic Oil Production


Fueled by overseas unrest, gas prices continued their rise to record levels this week, witnessing the “second-biggest two-week jump in the history of the gasoline market”:


U.S. gasoline prices increased nearly 33 cents in two weeks, the second-biggest two-week jump in the history of the gasoline market, according to a new survey of filling stations.” (Mariano Castillo, “Libya Crisis Sends U.S. Gas Prices Up 33 Cents in Two Weeks,” CNN, 3/7/2011)


But rather than provide leadership that could offer relief from higher gas prices to families feeling the pinch, the Obama administration is doubling down on its opposition to expanding domestic oil production. Following up on a House Natural Resources Committee hearing last week where he defended the administration’s delay in issuing new oil drilling permits, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar took legal action Friday to do the same thing:


“The Obama administration has fired another shot in the fight over the speed with which the Interior Department is — or isn’t — letting oil drillers resume work in the Gulf of Mexico after last year’s Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill.


“The administration late Friday appealed a judge’s orders directing the department to act on several pending Gulf Coast deep-water drilling permits.


“Gulf state lawmakers and the oil industry have accused the department of dragging its feet on the permits, enacting a de facto moratorium against new drilling, while the department has said it needs to ensure that safety and environmental protections are in place.” (Dan Berman and Darren Goode, “Interior Appeals Oil Drilling Ruling,” Politico, 3/4/2011)


It was this very response that drew a sharp rebuke last week from Salazar’s former colleague on the Senate Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), for destroying Gulf State jobs:


“The secretary faced the most scorn from Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who has been a staunch opponent of the Obama administration’s stance on drilling after the BP oil spill last spring…


“Landrieu showed clear frustration with questions like: ‘What are you specifically doing to get these permits increased so people can get back to work?’


“And: ‘Eighteen deep-water permits have been applied for … and you have issued one. And the industry is saying, ‘They’re returning them to us because we are not sure of the requirements they are requesting of us.’ ‘


” ‘What I [am] hearing from the industry is uncertainty,’ she said. ‘In January 2009 there were 16 permits issued. The next year there were 12 and this January, only two. We’re so far off the historic level. We’ve got to get it back up as quickly as possible.’” (Amanda Carey, “Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu Grills Salazar on Offshore Drilling,” The Daily Caller, 3/2/2011)


While the White House doubletalk on drilling can be disorienting, perhaps it makes more sense if we look to earlier remarks from President Obama and Energy Secretary Stephen Chu. In 2008, Obama indicated his concern only for the rate of gas price increases, not the increases themselves; Chu was more explicit, endorsing high gas prices as a policy to change consumer buying habits:


“CNBC’s John Harwood: ‘So could the (high) oil prices help us?’


BARACK OBAMA: ‘I think that I would have preferred a gradual adjustment.'”(Jim Geraghty, “Obama: On Gas Prices, ‘I Would Have Preferred a Gradual Adjustment’,”National Review, 6/11/2008)


CHU: “In a sign of one major internal difference, Mr. Chu has called for gradually ramping up gasoline taxes over 15 years to coax consumers into buying more-efficient cars and living in neighborhoods closer to work.


‘Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe,’ Mr. Chu, who directs the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal in September.” (Neil King Jr. and Stephen Power, “Times Tough for Energy Overhaul,” The Wall Street Journal, 12/12/2008)