Under pressure from fuel prices, Obama starts energy blitz

Shiny solar panels, sprawling gas fields and the site of a future oil pipeline will give President Barack Obama a set of convenient photo backdrops this week as he launches a campaign-like tour to tout his energy policies to Americans.Obama begins a two-day, four-state trip on Wednesday to promote plans to make the United States less dependent on foreign oil just as voters grow increasingly exasperated about rising gasoline prices, a trend that could influence the president’s re-election chances. 

Republicans cite Obama’s rejection of a new pipeline from Canada and support for a now bankrupt solar panel company along with the higher prices as evidence that his energy plans are not working.

Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have made energy a key component of their pitches to become their party’s nominee to take on Obama, a Democrat, on November 6.

So Obama – who boasts an “all of the above” strategy of boosting renewable fuels, increasing domestic oil and gas production and promoting energy efficiency – is visiting areas that illustrate his policies while slamming Republicans for making promises they can’t keep.

Obama and his advisers have painted Republicans as solely focused on oil and gas drilling to the detriment of other energy sources, while mocking Gingrich – without naming him – for promising to bring gas prices down to $2.50 a gallon.

“Drilling alone is not an answer,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday.

“With a very small portion of the world’s known reserves but a huge demand for oil on the world market, we need to diversify our approach. And that’s an approach that I think a broad majority of the American people would also support.”

Analysts said the trip was a good way for Obama to show he had no silver bullet to deal with gasoline prices, a fact the president has emphasized repeatedly.

“Obviously, with the recent spike in gas prices, energy is an issue weighing heavily on the minds of many Americans,” said David Konisky, a professor at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute.

“Like any president, there is little that Obama can do in the short-term to bring down prices, which makes it difficult to alleviate public concerns.”

Obama will try to address those concerns with a show of force about what his administration is doing to promote renewable energy as well as oil and gas drilling.

At Obama’s first stop in Boulder City, Nevada, the president will visit the Copper Mountain Solar 1 Facility, which, with nearly 1 million solar panels, is the largest photovoltaic plant operating in the United States.

His next stop will be outside Carlsbad, New Mexico, to an area with more than 70 active drilling rigs.

On Thursday, the president will tackle critics of his decision to block the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada head on, going to Cushing, Oklahoma, where TransCanada Corp plans to build the southern leg of the project, which Obama supports.

“The president will reiterate his administration’s commitment to expediting the construction of a pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico, relieving a bottleneck of oil and bringing domestic resources to market,” a White House official said.

He finishes the trip in Ohio — an critical battleground state in the November election — at a university that does advanced energy research.

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – (Editing by Doina Chiacu)


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