OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Obama heads west on energy road trip

State of play: President Obama will begin his two-day, four-state energy roadshow Wednesday, with stops aimed at showing he backs domestic oil-and-gas drilling and renewable sources like solar power.

The plan for driving that point home: visiting an oil-and-gas drilling site in New Mexico and a solar power plant in Nevada.

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Obama will head to Boulder City, Nev., to visit the Copper Mountain Solar 1 Facility, which according to the White House is the largest photovoltaic plant operating in the country. Its nearly one million panels are powering 17,000 homes, the White House said.

“In Boulder City, he will highlight his Administration’s focus on diversifying our energy portfolio, including expanding renewable energy from sources like wind and solar, which thanks in part to investments made by this Administration is set to double in the President’s first term,” the White House said.

He'll also travel to oil and natural-gas production fields on federal lands outside of Maljamar, N.M.  Administration officials have relentlessly touted rising U.S. oil and natural-gas production to parry claims that Obama is thwarting domestic development.

Oil production from federal lands and waters specifically dipped in fiscal year 2011, but that was after years of gains.

On Thursday, Obama will tout efforts to expedite construction of the southern portion of the Keystone pipeline in Oklahoma and speak about energy research at Ohio State University.

The tour is part of a wider White House effort to undercut GOP attacks over rising gasoline prices. More on that here and here.

Senior administration officials say Obama, on the tour, will continue to emphasize his support for boosting a range of traditional and emerging energy sources.

They said Obama could also make some news. The officials didn’t provide specifics, although CNN reported that Obama will announce an expedited permit process for the Oklahoma-to-Texas portion of the Keystone line.

The White House in February already committed to taking “every step possible” to speed permitting, and it wasn’t immediately clear at press time what specific steps might be in the offing.


NEWS BITES:

Chu on GOP Solyndra probe: 'There's nothing there'

Energy Secretary Steven Chu signaled Tuesday that he wants Republicans to end their investigation into the administration’s $535 million loan guarantee to failed solar panel maker Solyndra.

“After hundreds of thousands of pages of documents sent over, there’s not any whiff that this was a politically influenced decision,” Chu told reporters Tuesday, adding, “And that’s true of all the loans.”

“There is nothing there,” he said.

Chu’s comments came shortly after he testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee during a hearing on the loan program. Read more about the hearing here.

Republicans alleged that the administration approved loans to please President Obama’s campaign donors, a claim Chu strongly denied.

A year-long House Energy and Commerce Committee investigation has uncovered no evidence that the Solyndra loan was granted for political reasons. But it has uncovered documents that are embarrassing and politically damaging for the White House, including that officials raised questions about the wisdom of granting the loan guarantee.

Solyndra declared bankruptcy in September, two years after the Obama administration green-lighted a loan guarantee for the company.

Menendez hopes for better showing on oil tax vote

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) sees reasons why his plan to strip billions of dollars in oil industry tax breaks, which is heading for the floor, could get more than the 52 Senate votes a similar proposal won last May (60 were needed to advance the plan).

The tax incentives are getting tougher and tougher to defend, he suggested. “I think that the pressure has increased dramatically. I think it is hard for people to make the case back at home, with rising gas prices,” Menendez told The Hill in the Capitol Tuesday.

Of course prices at the pump were actually somewhat higher in mid-May, when the earlier plan fell short, than they are today. But it wasn’t an election year.

Also this year, Democrats have tethered the tax break repeals to extension of several incentives for renewable fuels, green electricity and energy-efficient homes.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to hold a vote by the end of March, but it’s not expected to reach 60 votes amid resistance from Republicans and conservative Democrats.

“It is sad that we have come to the point that a majority in the Senate doesn’t mean anything anymore,” Menendez said of the frequent filibusters that create the 60-vote hurdle.

Whitfield plans to move ‘soon’ on gas price bill

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), a top member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is vowing to act quickly on legislation that would put several planned Environmental Protection Agency rules on hold.

“We will be moving that relatively soon,” he told reporters in the Capitol.

Whitfield, chairman of the Energy and Power subcommittee, said in coming days he’ll unveil a bill to delay the Environmental Protection Agency’s planned “Tier III” fuel standards, greenhouse gas rules refineries and other measures while an interagency panel reviews their effect on gas prices and other issues.

“It will be introduced within the next three or four days,” he said.

Sen. Sanders to unveil bill aimed at lowering gas prices

A handful of liberal lawmakers will unveil legislation Wednesday to force federal regulators to impose emergency limits on speculative trading in energy futures markets.

The lawmakers blame speculation for the recent spike in gasoline prices, which reached nearly $3.85 Tuesday, according to AAA.

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) will hold a press conference at 11:30 a.m. to tout the bill.

A number of Democrats say the Commodity Futures Trading Commission has been too timid in using its powers to impose curbs on "excessive" speculation. More on that here.

Bipartisan energy efficiency bill coming Wednesday

Reps. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and David McKinley (R-W.Va.) will unveil bipartisan energy efficiency legislation Wednesday morning.

An unlikely mix of industry and green groups will attend the event, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Efficiency First and the Alliance to Save Energy.

Gas prices, White House reg reviews to animate hearings

Wednesday’s Capitol Hill hearings will include more GOP attacks against the White House over rising gasoline prices and an appearance by President Obama’s controversial regulations chief.

The House Natural Resources Committee will gather for a hearing called “Harnessing American Resources to Create Jobs and Address Rising Gasoline Prices: Families and Cost-of-Life Impacts.”

The House Judiciary Committee will hear from Cass Sunstein, who heads the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, a branch that some environmentalists allege has been bent on weakening rules crafted by the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies.



IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...

Here's a quick roundup of Tuesday's E2 stories:

- US imposes tariffs on Chinese solar imports
- GOP lawmaker entertains Obama 'birther' notions
- Obama energy chief says he deserves high marks for trying to lower gas prices
- House GOP budget takes aim at Obama’s energy agenda
- Reid plans March showdown on oil-industry tax breaks
- Latest Gingrich ad hopes to draw White House further into tussle over gas prices
- House GOP weighs new gas-price bill

Amie Parnes contributed.


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