White House advances its energy policy without help from polarized Congress

The White House is serving notice that, when it comes to energy policy, the president doesnt always need Capitol Hill.

President Obama, during a speech Thursday in Holland, Mich., urged Congress to quickly pass a slew of bills on issues ranging from patent reform to trade deals. But one topic was conspicuously missing from his to-do list for lawmakers: energy legislation.

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Obama instead touted steps his administration has taken without Congress, including the new vehicle-fuel economy standards announced in recent weeks.

Think about it. That’s what we got done — and by the way, we didn’t go through Congress to do it, Obama told workers at an advanced battery plant. But we did use the tools of government — us working together — to help make it happen.

The White House has positioned energy policy as a key component of the economic recovery, and in the run-up to the 2012 elections, Obama is highlighting steps his administration has taken at a time when Capitol Hill divisions create huge hurdles for energy bills.

The fuel-economy standards represent just one of several instances in which the White House has touted energy policy actions it can take without Congress.

In recent weeks and months, the administration has also released oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and announced a new interagency team to coordinate and streamline permitting for oil-and-gas projects in Alaska.

“In the wake of the debt-ceiling fiasco, the president is no doubt eager to demonstrate his ability to act independently of Congress, and specifically on an issue of concern to average Americans like gasoline prices,” said Paul Bledsoe, a senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center who often works on energy matters.

While Obama has called on Congress to pass energy bills and the White House says it’s working with the Senate, Obama is also seeking to seize control of the political narrative on energy by focusing on executive actions rather than legislative goals.

“I think the White House continues to believe that oil politics are very important to the economy and the next election, and they are determined to enact whatever policies they can, especially those that have a populist bent,” Bledsoe said.

The White House is working to catalogue the president’s energy policy achievements. Ahead of Obama’s speech Thursday, the White House circulated a list of recent administration actions on energy policy, arguing they will play a major role in “spurring economic growth, and creating high-quality domestic jobs in cutting-edge industries across America.”

The White House is also defending against friendly fire from environmental groups, which argue that Obama has not been aggressive enough when it comes to environmental policy.

Thursday on Air Force One, White House press secretary Jay Carney spotlighted a new Time magazine article praising Obama’s energy and environmental record and blasting liberals for “whining” about the things the president has been unable to accomplish.

Despite the intense partisanship in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Wednesday he hopes to make energy one of Democrats’ “signature issues” in the coming months. Energy, he said, will play a role in Senate Democrats’ jobs agenda. But Reid has offered few details on what such an energy plan might look like.

Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, said later Wednesday that the White House is working “directly” with Reid on his energy agenda.

On Thursday, Obama said he’s planning to roll out more proposals to boost the economy in the days ahead.