Obama looks to steer energy discussion away from Keystone

The White House is signaling that President Obama will devote a significant share of Tuesday night’s State of the Union address to energy policy. But the president won’t mention his decision to nix the controversial Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

While the speech remains under wraps, Obama is expected to tout efforts to boost oil-and-gas production to parry GOP attacks, while offering a nod to his base by promoting green energy sources and fuel efficiency.

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“He will focus on energy — what can we do to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, invest in renewable energy that is produced right here in America,” said White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett on Fox News Tuesday.

Jarrett said Obama would not bring up his rejection last week of a permit for the Keystone pipeline, which would bring oil sands crude from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

“But he will certainly talk about what we can do to make sure that the United States is investing in new forms of energy,” she said, adding that Obama will highlight efforts to boost fossil fuels, noting that oil production is at an eight-year high.

The oil production data is similarly touted in a memo circulated by the White House Tuesday ahead of the speech. The memo broadly emphasizes the speech’s theme of an America “built to last.”

The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, reports that Obama will call for continued increases in oil-and-gas production. 

Meanwhile, the guest list for first lady Michelle Obama’s box at the address indicates that Obama will tout clean-energy jobs, a long-time White House priority.



Guests include Julián Castro, mayor of San Antonio, Texas. Castro is working to build a major solar project in the city that the White House says will create 800 jobs and inject $100 million into the San Antonio economy.

“This is expected to be one of the nation’s largest solar projects resulting in 400 megawatts of zero-emissions solar energy,” the White House said in a statement.

Hiroyuki Fujita, who founded an electronics company that manufacturers solar energy components, and Bryan Ritterby, a lab technician from Michigan who secured a job testing materials used in wind turbines, will also attend the speech.

The White House is keeping people guessing on the specifics of the speech even as the first lady’s guest list has become public.

Jarrett, in the Fox interview, did not wade into potential new proposals but suggested Obama’s emphasis on oil and green energy will include measures that could need an assist from Congress.

“I think that's something that everybody can come together behind,” she said of the energy sections of the upcoming speech. “It's one that's going to require us to work very closely with Congress, the Republicans in Congress to forge an agenda. That's what the president is interested in doing."

Obama’s discussion of oil-and-gas efforts could be an effort to blunt GOP attacks over Keystone, the slowdown in offshore drilling permits in the wake of the BP spill and other issues.

In recent months the White House has resisted calls to open the Atlantic Coast and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, while touting efforts to bolster development in areas including Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve and Gulf of Mexico regions where leasing is already authorized.

The White House is citing oil-and-gas production data and trends to battle campaign-season claims by GOP and industry groups that Obama is doing too little to make more offshore and onshore regions available to drilling.

U.S. crude oil production increased from 5.1 million barrels per day in 2007 to 5.5 million barrels per day in 2010, according to the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The agency, according to its latest outlook, expects oil production to reach 6.7 million barrels per day in 2020, a level not seen since 1994, and natural-gas production is slated to keep rising as well.

EIA also forecasts decreased reliance on oil imports as a result of U.S. production growth, fuel mileage standards, the growth of biofuels and other factors. 

Imports, as a share of liquid fuels consumption, are forecast to drop from 49 percent in 2010 to 36 percent in 2035. That figure does not include further oil savings expected through upcoming rules to boost auto mileage standards for model years 2017-2025.

But the oil industry, ahead of the speech, is seeking to prevent Obama from gaining traction on the issue. American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard, in a statement Tuesday, said falling import reliance is good, but called on Obama to go further.

“This is progress, but it falls far short of what we could do with greater access to domestic supplies and sounder regulatory policies,” he said in a prepared statement about projected oil-and-gas production increases. 

“We hope the administration will look at the numbers and do what we’ve been asking them to do for a long time: work with us to produce at home even more of the oil and natural gas our nation will require."