Tea Party senator says White House is 'hell-bent' on 'suicidal' energy policy

Freshman Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who won office with Tea Party backing, is adding his voice to the chorus of Republicans alleging the Obama administration is placing too many restrictions on domestic oil production.

He said on the Fox Business Network Monday that hundreds of billions of dollars spent annually on oil imports go to countries “where a lot of people don't like us very much, and they're using that money to fund the acts of terrorism against us in many incidences.”

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He also drew links between oil production and the national debt.

“When we produce energy here, when we produce oil here, the revenue stays here and that helps Americans. That doesn't mean that we have to categorically shun all products from anywhere else, but where we've got a commodity that everybody needs, like oil, and great abundance right here in the United States, we ought to be producing all we can,” Lee said.

He added: “This administration seems hell-bent on producing as little as we can here, and that's suicidal.”

Lee also said that increasing domestic oil production would help bring down the price of gasoline (which is linked to crude prices). Oil and gasoline prices have risen sharply in recent weeks, prompting Republicans to step up their attacks on administration policies. 

Republicans and some Democrats are seeking faster permitting of oil-and-gas projects offshore, and want more areas made available for drilling as well.

Obama administration officials say they are mindful of the effects of high prices as markets are under pressure from the turmoil in North Africa — where Libyan oil production has been disrupted — and the Middle East.

White House officials say they have not ruled out tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to increase supply, an idea that several Republicans have criticized.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last week emphasized that the administration supports domestic oil production, but pushed back against the common GOP refrain that increasing U.S. production will affect oil prices.

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“We do not produce enough ... oil in this country to influence the price of oil, because it's set on the world markets, OK? And so what we do here in terms of production is not going to influence the price of oil,” he said at a Senate hearing last week.

The Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the Energy Department, has estimated that opening up large swaths of the country’s waters to drilling will only lower gas prices by a few cents.

Oil prices have soared to their highest levels in over two years amid the turmoil in Libya. Oil futures are currently trading at roughly $105 per barrel on NYMEX, slightly off Monday’s highs of around $107.

Gasoline prices have also been headed sharply upward. The nationwide average is $3.51 per gallon, compared to $3.12 a month ago and $2.75 at this time last year, according to AAA.

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