Gasoline prices weighing down Obama, poll finds

Nearly two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the way President Barack Obama has handled rising gasoline prices, according to a new poll.

The ABC News-Washington Post poll found that 65 percent of respondents said they disapprove of the way he’s handling the matter, while just 26 percent approve. The survey likely will give ammunition to Republicans who have sought to blame Obama for the recent gasoline price surge by arguing that his policies have impeded oil-and-gas production.

Prices skyrocketed nationally over the weekend, and analysts suggest they could hit $4 by Memorial Day weekend. But they say that presidents, regardless of their party, have virtually no control over costs at the pump and that tensions in Iran are the main reason behind the recent run-up in the price of a barrel of oil.

The poll nonetheless suggests that the White House faces a significant political threat from gasoline prices that threaten to rile consumers and slow the economic recovery just as it’s speeding up. A new CBS News-New York Times poll released Monday evening shows Obama’s approval rating falling to 41 percent, a drop that “may be partially attributable to rising gas prices.”

The White House deflected the ABC News-Washington Post poll at a news briefing today.

“I think the fact of the matter is, the president, the administration, is not focused on polling data,” said Jay Carney, the top White House spokesman.

But in a sign Obama and his political aides have major concerns about gasoline prices, the White House also released a new report Monday seeking to highlight the progress his administration has made on energy.

Republicans have accused Obama of limiting access to oil-rich federal lands and waters, considering regulations that impede production, and slowing down the permitting process for offshore drilling, among other things. Obama has responded no short-term silver bullets exist for rising gasoline prices and has criticized Republicans for “licking their chops” on the issue.

The White House report Monday lists these accomplishments:

  • Net oil imports have fallen below 50 percent, U.S. oil production reached an 8-year high in 2011, and rig counts have skyrocketed.
  • The administration plans to hold several more lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and even off the Alaska coast.
  • The administration has finalized fuel-efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses, and proposed doubling fuel economy for passenger vehicles to 54.5 miles per gallon by model year 2025.
  • The Department of Energy and Department of Housing and Urban Development have installed efficiency upgrades on 1 million American homes since late 2009.
  • Renewable power generation has nearly doubled since 2008.
  • The administration beat by one year its goal of breaking ground on four commercial-scale biorefineries by 2013.

“What this president has done from day one is to move forward with the kind of energy policy and strategy that includes the ‘all-of-the-above’ energy program that we’re implementing,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said, “because that’s the only way that we’re going to get to a point where we stop having the kinds of price shocks and disruptions that we’ve been seeing since the formation of OPEC and in fact even before the formation of OPEC.”

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and other Republicans have dubbed Obama’s policy a “none-of-the-above” strategy, saying he has impeded oil production on the federal lands and waters he controls and citing his administration’s rejection of a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee, came to Obama’s defense on Monday after the report’s release.

“Increased domestic oil and gas production, historic new fuel economy standards, coupled with expanded renewable energy generation and improved energy efficiency represents a vision that strikes fear in hearts of the OPEC oil cartel and the Big Oil companies who want to keep us addicted to high-priced oil,” Markey said in an emailed statement.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that the Keystone XL, which would pipe oil-sands crude from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries, “won’t lower the price of oil” because some of it could go for export and because “construction won’t be complete for a long, long time.” The Senate recently rejected amending a transportation bill with a provision to approve the pipeline.

Obama has said he rejected the permit not on its merits but because lawmakers imposed a deadline that didn’t allow adequate review. The company proposing the pipeline, TransCanada, can reapply.

But Obama’s Democratic allies have also pressured the administration on a number of fronts about stabilizing oil prices.

Markey and others have asked the White House to release oil from the 700-million-barrel Strategic Petroleum Reserve, while others suggest reining in “excessive speculation” by investors who buy into oil futures only with the interest of making a profit by selling when the prices rise. Analysts have raised issues with both those techniques.

Still other Democrats have pressed the State Department to ask Saudi Arabia to boost its production to address the Iranian supply concerns. Republicans have responded that the U.S. should do more to boost its own supply instead of relying on Middle Eastern oil. But Democrats note that it would take years for more U.S. production to come online and even then its effect on global oil prices would be minimal.

White House Energy Progress Report

This story was last updated at 6:27 p.m.