Obama: more energy production, efficiency; GOP: priorities misplaced

President Obama, facing a persistent spike in gasoline prices and continuing political instability in oil producing regions of North Africa and the Middle East, today sought to reassure the nation that he has a coherent plan to reduce American reliance on imported energy.

Speaking to students at Georgetown University in Washington, the president presented the nation with what he called “a new goal” — reducing imported energy by one-third by 2025.

To meet that goal, he offered a largely recycled set of policy proposals wrapped in urgent rhetoric about the need for Congress to stop talking and start acting. He complained that Washington, facing similar price spikes in the past, engaged in “a lot of fulminating and hand-wringing, but nothing actually happened.”

He says that politicians regularly offer slogans and hot rhetoric when gas prices  go up but then “hit the snooze button when they fall again.”

In his first energy policy address since the Japanese nuclear crisis, President Obama said the rising cost of oil is evidence that the U.S. needs a comprehensive, long-term energy plan instead of short-term solutions spurred by periodic price spikes.

Obama  stressed that the nation can slash its oil imports by a third through expanding domestic energy production, encouraging use of natural gas in cars and trucks, boosting the development of biofuels and improving fuel efficiency.

“Here’s the bottom line: There are no quick fixes,” he said. “Anyone who tells you otherwise is not telling you the truth.”

Obama aggressively disputed claims by Texas lawmakers that his administration was blocking new drilling in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of last year’s Deepwater Horizon disaster.

“Any claim like that is simply untrue,” he said.

The president said his administration had approved 39 shallow-water drilling permits and seven deep-water permits that meet “smarter standards of safety and responsibility.”

Obama strongly defended new safety requirements for Gulf drilling, saying “I don’t have amnesia.”

“We just spent all that time, energy and money trying to clean up a big mess,” he said. “I think it’s important to make sure we don’t allow something like that to happen again.”

Obama took several political swipes at Republicans who have been crying “drill, baby, drill” and vowing to open large swaths of the Alaskan tundra, Gulf of Mexico and Southeastern United States to new energy production.

“The truth is, none of these gimmicks, none of these slogans, made a bit of difference,” he told the students.

The president did not dwell on the ongoing nuclear disaster that has resulted in the release of radioactive material into the atmosphere worldwide and contaminated Japanese crops and drinking water. While saying he had asked for safety reviews of U.S. nuclear plants, he reasserted his commitment to nuclear power.

“We’ve got to recognize that nuclear power, if it’s safe, can make a significant contribution” to lowering carbon emissions, he said.

Reaction to Obama’s remarks divided largely among party lines, although the president was criticized from the left by some environmental groups that oppose additional domestic drilling and nuclear energy production.

“The American people need action from President Obama not another lecture,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, “especially as skyrocketing gas prices are crippling middle-class families and small businesses.”

Cornyn, the chairman of the Senate Republicans’ campaign committee, blamed Obama for making the spike in gasoline prices even worse through poorly planned policies.

“Since taking office, the president’s policies have exacerbated the economic pain Americans are feeling at the pump,” Cornyn said. “He has restricted our domestic supplies of oil and natural gas, championed failed cap-and-trade legislation, and allowed the EPA to begin imposing massive energy taxes through backdoor greenhouse gas regulations. 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.”

Democrats were more generous in their initial reaction. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called the Obama policy prescription “ambitious but achievable.”

“It’s a great priority for our country, and the president is doing a good thing by focusing the public’s attention on ways to make ourselves more secure and control our energy future,” he said.

Obama also:

— Touted natural gas as an abundant, cleaner-burning power source that Washington should promote with incentives that encourage the adoption of cars, trucks and fleets that run on the fuel.

— Highlighted still-developing fuel economy standards for cars and trucks covering model years 2017 through 2025.

— Required all U.S. government cars purchased to be powered by alternative energy by 2015.

— Affirmed his commitment to a proposed mandate that by 2025, 80 percent of the nation’s electricity come from low-emission power sources, such as renewable wind and solar, as well as nuclear power, natural gas and still-developing “clean coal” technology.

— Announced a goal that within two years, the U.S. will break ground on four refineries to produce the next generation of advanced or cellulosic biofuels made from plant materials.

While some environmental groups criticized the president’s endorsement of increased production of oil and nuclear power, Frances Beinecke, president of the National Resources Defense Council, said the end goal is clear.

“We don’t need any more wake-up calls before embracing a clean energy economy that relies on renewable sources of power that are safer, cleaner, make more economic sense and curb carbon dioxide pollution,” she said.