Encouraged, discouraged, wait-and-see: reactions to Obama’s energy speech

Oil and gas industry leaders embraced President Obama’s message of energy independence today but reacted cautiously to the policies he laid out during a major energy policy speech at Georgetown University.

Their responses ranged from a glowing review from Texas energy executive T. Boone Pickens, who called the speech “a big step forward,” to others who said they want to see concrete actions by the White House before embracing the president’s ambitious agenda.

“Indeed, the president has, at least rhetorically, embraced these common sense goals before,” said Barry Russell, president and CEO of the Independent Petroleum Association of America. “However, actions speak much louder than words. Despite the rhetoric coming from the Obama administration, the federal government continues to add new burdens to the federal oil and natural gas leasing and permitting process.”

Obama’s speech this morning committed the United States to slashing its oil imports by a third by 2025 through expanding domestic energy production, encouraging use of natural gas in cars and trucks, boosting the development of biofuels and improving fuel efficiency.

Pickens, author of his own plan to reduce oil imports through expanding use of renewable domestic resources and natural gas, said Obama’s speech was “a great move forward.”

“It is clear President Obama is committed to weaning America off Middle Eastern oil (and) securing our own energy future,” he said. “Recent unrest in the Middle East underscores the need to take action now and I’m encouraged by the president’s promise to secure America’s energy future and national security by reducing our dependence on OPEC oil.”

American Gas Association president Dave McCurdy, a former Oklahoma congressman, said he is “pleased to see the president focusing on what America can do to further increase our energy and national security.”

“The president’s commitment to the responsible development and use of domestic natural gas is also a step in the right direction,” McCurdy said.

Some environmental groups expressed differing degrees of concerns over Obama’s endorsement of additional oil and gas exploration.

“This speech was more about polluting the future than winning it,” said Friends of the Earth Climate and Energy Director Damon Moglen. “President Obama today doubled down on his support for dirty energy sources including the nuclear, corn ethanol, oil, natural gas, and coal industries, while going AWOL on a crucial fight over the Clean Air Act.

“Given the escalating radiation disaster in Japan, it’s dumbfounding that President Obama believes it’s justifiable to call nuclear energy ‘clean.’”

Other green groups were more measured in their responses.

“While this plan is a good step, we urge the Obama administration to harness America’s inventiveness to wean ourselves off all fossil fuels,” said Oceana senior campaign director Jacqueline Savitz. “ The price of our failure will be economic ruin.”

Reaction on Capitol Hill was predictably partisan.

Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens speaks at a luncheon meeting of the Society of Independent Professional Earth Scientists (SIPES) at the Houston Petroleum Club, 800 Bell St., Tuesday, March 29, 2011, in Houston. (Melissa Phillip/Houston Chronicle)

Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens speaks at a luncheon meeting of the Society of Independent Professional Earth Scientists (SIPES) at the Houston Petroleum Club, 800 Bell St., Tuesday, March 29, 2011, in Houston. (Melissa Phillip/Houston Chronicle)

“Sadly, we’ve already seen American jobs leave the Gulf Coast and head to the president’s recently championed Brazil as a result of this administration’s de facto moratorium on offshore drilling,” said Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston. “Adding insult to injury, industries are starting to relocate to countries like India and China, where no emissions standards exist, providing zero net benefit to our environment.”

Culberson said Obama’s priorities make no sense and will cost taxpayers and companies many dollars.

“You don’t need a PhD in economics to understand that further regulations will only serve to eliminate jobs and raise energy prices for struggling American families and businesses,” he said. “The fact of the matter is that oil and gas companies do not need incentives for expedited development….The only people who need ‘incentives’ are the ones sitting in the president’s administration who are proposing additional regulations that will further slow the leasing process.”

Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, said Obama “said a lot of the right things with respect to tapping domestic resources to reduce our dependency on foreign energy” but has taken actions that complicate those efforts.

“Once again, this administration seems detached from what’s going on in the world and what needs to be done,” Olson said. “Time is ticking. We’ll see if the President is serious about increasing domestic oil and gas production. In the meantime, our ‘all-of-the-above’ American Energy Initiative will decrease our reliance on foreign oil and help get people back to work and provide families with access to affordable energy.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R-San Antonio, was critical of the academic setting chosen by the president and his lofty tone.

“The American people need action from President Obama not another lecture, especially as skyrocketing gas prices are crippling middle-class families and small businesses,” Cornyn said. “It is time for the President to recognize the damage his policies are having on the economy, take his boot off the neck of domestic energy producers, and unlock our domestic energy potential.”

Rep. Nick J. Rahall of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, said he will “fully support the president’s ambitious but achievable goal of reducing foreign oil imports by one-third over the next decade.”

“With all the recent turmoil in the Middle East, and Americans being pinched at the pump, we need to increase domestic supplies of energy that aren’t beholden to political unrest and civil upheaval.”