Obama: 'No quick fixes’ on gas prices

Obama: 'No quick fixes’ on gas prices

President Obama said Wednesday there are “no quick fixes” to lower high gas prices and called for a long-term energy strategy that will begin to wean the United States off its dependence on foreign oil. 

The speech comes amid growing partisanship over energy policy in Congress and increasing calls to lower gas prices.

Obama, speaking at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., laid out a multi-part plan for reducing U.S. oil imports by one-third over the next decade.

He criticized proposals to lower gas prices as political theater, noting that lawmakers had the same conversations in the summer of 2008 when gas prices were at an all-time high in the United States.

“[Y]ou had a lot of slogans and gimmicks and outraged politicians waving three-point-plans for two-dollar gas — when none of it would really do anything to solve the problem,” Obama said.

“The point is, the ups and downs in gas prices historically have tended to be temporary,” he continued. “But when you look at the long-term trends, there are going to be more ups in gas prices than downs in gas prices.”

Republicans, for their part, and some Democrats have tied high gas prices to proposals to expand oil-and-gas drilling. But analysts say expanded drilling won’t have any major effect on gas prices in the near-term.

The only real solution, Obama said, is a long-term energy plan that makes the country less vulnerable to world oil-price spikes.

“So here’s the bottom line — there are no quick fixes. Anybody who tells you otherwise isn’t telling you the truth,” Obama said. “And we will keep on being a victim to shifts in the oil market until we finally get serious about a long-term policy for a secure, affordable energy future.”

The president also stood by his support for nuclear power amid the ongoing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.

“We've got to recognize that nuclear power, if it's safe, can make a significant contribution to the climate change question," he said.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is conducting a two-part review of U.S. reactor safety in light of the Japanese crisis. Obama said the administration would incorporate lessons from the review as the country moves toward expanding nuclear power.

"We can't simply take it off the table," Obama said.

But the majority of Obama’s speech focused on reducing the country’s dependence on oil imports.

“Our best opportunities to enhance our energy security can be found in our own backyard," Obama said.

Obama said the Interior Department is “working to expedite new drilling permits” for companies that meet more stringent safety standards, which were put in place in the aftermath of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The department has issued seven deepwater drilling permits in the Gulf for the type of project halted after the spill. It has also issued 39 shallow-water permits.

Obama pushed back against claims by Republicans that the administration is blocking offshore oil-and-gas development.

“So any claim that my administration is responsible for gas prices because we’ve “shut down” oil production, any claim like that is simply untrue. It might make for a useful sound bite, but it doesn’t track with reality,” he said.

The president called on the oil industry to tap unused oil leases.

“Right now the industry holds tens of millions of acres of leases where they’re not producing a single drop. They’re just sitting on supplies of American energy that are ready to be tapped," he said. "That’s why part of our plan is to provide new and better incentives that promote rapid, responsible development of these resources. ”

The calls comes after the Interior Department released a report Tuesday ordered by Obama that oil companies have failed to develop millions of acres of off- and onshore public land under lease.

Obama also endorsed a proposal by T. Boone Pickens to incentivize natural-gas vehicles. And he called for biofuels incentives.

“Over the next two years, we’ll help entrepreneurs break ground for four next-generation biorefineries -– each with a capacity of more than 20 million gallons per year. And going forward, we should look for ways to reform biofuels incentives to make sure that they’re meeting today’s challenges and that they’re also saving taxpayers money,” he said.

Later, the president said the administration will continue working to increase vehicle fuel economy and efficiency. The administration will announce new fuel efficiency standards for vehicles as well as standards for heavy-duty trucks this year.

Obama also revived goals he set in his State of the Union address, including putting 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 and getting 80 percent of the country’s electricity from low-carbon sources like wind, natural gas and nuclear by 2035.

Obama said he is directing federal agencies to purchase “100 percent alternative fuel, hybrid or electric vehicles by 2015.”

The president blasted efforts by Republicans to make drastic cuts to the government’s energy budget.

“These cuts would eliminate thousands of private sector jobs; it would terminate scientists and engineers; it would end fellowships for researchers, some who may be here at Georgetown, graduate students and other talent that we desperately need to get into this area in the 21st century,” he said.

Turmoil in the Middle East has led to higher gas prices, and has changed the nature of the energy debate in Washington, to an extent. 

In the aftermath of failed attempts to pass climate change legislation in the Senate, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said they were open to compromise on energy legislation.

“I think energy is an area where there is potential for a bipartisan accomplishment of some consequence,” McConnell told The Wall Street Journal late last year.

But high gas prices and ongoing unrest in the Middles East and North Africa have changed lawmakers’ tune.

Republicans have taken aim at the administration’s offshore drilling policies, arguing that the Interior Department is slow-walking permits for offshore drilling in the Gulf in the aftermath of last year’s massive Gulf oil spill.

And the GOP has blasted Democrats’ proposal to provide incentives for oil companies to tap unused leases as a distraction from the larger need to increase expand oil and gas drilling.

In a floor speech Wednesday before Obama’s remarks, McConnell blasted the administration’s energy plan.

“Instead of facing the problem of higher energy prices head-on, Democrats are once again paying lip service to these concerns with fake solutions that only aim to distract people from what they’re really up to,” McConnell said.

McConnell also criticized the administration’s proposal to incentivize production on unused leases.

“[H]onestly, are we really supposed to believe that the same administration that declared a blanket moratorium on all offshore drilling off the Gulf Coast, which chased away rigs and jobs to other countries, and which established new regulations that make getting a new drilling permit virtually impossible, now believes that energy companies aren’t drilling enough?” he said.

McConnell called for developing more domestic energy and blocking the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate change regulations.

The average price of gas Wednesday in the United States was $3.59, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge report. That’s up about almost a dollar from this time last year. The all-time high of $4.11 a gallon came in July of 2008.