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Published: Sunday, 4/24/2011

Pain at the pump

Obama calls clean energy gas solution

BLADE NEWS SERVICES

WASHINGTON — President Obama told Americans on Saturday that there is no “silver bullet” to bring down high gasoline prices and said he wants to end what he called $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies to oil and gas companies.

Mr. Obama is feeling the heat from U.S. gasoline prices that are about $4 a gallon, including at many locations in Toledo. A New York Times-CBS News poll found 70 percent of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track and analysts believe gas prices are a main reason.

The President devoted his weekly radio address to outlining his views on the U.S. energy predicament, saying clean energy is the way ­forward for a country long addicted to gas-guzzling vehicles.

“Now, whenever gas prices shoot up, like clockwork, you see politicians racing to the cameras, waving three-point plans for $2 gas. You see people trying to grab headlines or score a few points.

“The truth is, there’s no silver bullet that can bring down gas prices right away,” he said.

The President said proposals in Congress to cut investments in clean energy technology would hurt efforts to stem rising gasoline prices, which climbed to a 33-month high last week.

Mr. Obama, a Democrat, accused Republicans of seeking to cut 70 percent in government spending to encourage development of clean energy projects.

“Instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy sources, we need to invest in tomorrow’s. We need to invest in clean, renewable energy,” he said.

He also said it is time to eliminate what he called $4 billion in annual “taxpayer subsidies” to oil and gas companies.

“That’s $4 billion of your money going to these companies when they’re making record profits and you’re paying near record prices at the pump. It has to stop,” he said.

During a 2012 campaign fund-raising stop Thursday Mr. Obama announced a working group of federal agencies to investigate potential fraud in the energy markets that affects pump prices, including actions by speculators.

The group, which includes representatives of federal agencies and state attorneys general, will check for fraud, collusion, or misrepresentation at the retail and wholesale level, Attorney General Eric Holder said.

The group also will examine investor practices and the role of speculators and index traders in oil futures markets.

While the President said that last year’s domestic oil production was at its peak level since 2003, the “long-term” answer is investing in alternative energy and capitalizing on the potential of innovative clean energy companies and start-ups.

He said an agreement reached with major auto companies to raise the fuel economy of cars and trucks in the United States and an increase in hybrid technology will also help save Americans money at the pump.

“If you buy a new car in the next few years, the better gas mileage is going to save you about $3,000 at the pump,” he said.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said that the Obama Administration over the past two years has “declared what can only be described as a war on American energy.”

“It’s canceled dozens of drilling leases, imposed a moratorium on drilling off the Gulf Coast, and increased permit fees. It’s done just about everything it can to keep our own energy sector from growing,” Mr. McConnell said.

He said more must be done to increase domestic oil production.

In the Republican address, Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska said in order to get the nation’s “economic engine firing on all cylinders” there should be less government regulation, which he said “holds businesses back.”

“Our small businesses, when free to grow and prosper, need more and more employees to sustain that success,” he said. “That’s job creation.”

Mr. Johanns said that since January the Obama Administration has either proposed or enacted more than 250 regulations that cost more than $24 billion.

“That’s $24 billion dollars needed by small businesses across the country to hire new employees and to grow their businesses,” he said.

Gasoline price instability could loom as a campaign issue in next year’s presidential election.

“Obama is vulnerable on gas prices and the Republicans have and will exploit this as a wedge issue,” said James Thurber, who directs the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University.

“Gas prices are a major factor in his slide ... along with unemployment and his talk about cuts and tax increases to deal with deficits and debt,” Mr. Thurber said.



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