Obama’s message on world oil was a bummer for the public at large

There were enthusiastic cheers from students Thursday at Prince George’s Community College in Maryland  as President Barack Obama defended his energy policies and continued with his jabs at the GOP. Obama said the GOP’s ideas about energy are so antiquated the party probably would have formed the “flat earth society” if it were around when Columbus set sail.

But as I watched the speech live on television this morning, I noticed the cheers were sometimes out of sync with Obama’s anticipation. The crowd eagerly cheered jabs at the GOP’s energy policy, but was a bit dumbfounded when Obama spoke hard truths about energy. It was as though the audience expected Obama to divulge a set of intelligent, quick energy solutions but didn’t know how to react when they got the straight dope on energy.

For instance, after stating that America has 2 percent of the world’s oil but it consumes 20 percent (click here for an in-depth analysis), President Obama said, “We will not fully be in control of our energy future if our strategy is only to drill for the 2 percent but we still have to buy the 20 percent.” Obama paused, but there was no applause or enthusiastic shouts.

The President is absolutely right when he speaks of oil as a world commodity, and how the U.S. has a limited influence on price when you consider the fact that China and India’s growing demand for oil places upward pressure on gas prices. The U.S. simply cannot drill its way to lower gasoline prices. There’s no applause line there. Yet, a few lines later when Obama spoke of relying less on oil, in general, “America controls its own destiny.  We’re not dependent on somebody else,” the crowd finally let out a pent up desire to applaud. But I think it was more in response to the words and not the message.

We Americans love the idea that we can control our own destiny, whether it’s tapping more of our own domestic energy resources or shunning sources from unfriendly nations. But actually moving beyond a “drill, baby, drill” approach is to admit there’s some hard work ahead of us, and that’s kind of a bummer.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) was quick to criticize the president after his speech on Thursday, accusing the president of wanting to tap into the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve to save himself from a political disaster.

“The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is for emergencies – not political disasters. The Obama Administration still has not refilled the over 30 million barrels of oil it released from our emergency supply almost a year ago,” Barrasso said in a prepared statement. “Instead of manipulating the SPR, the White House should approve the Keystone XL pipeline, increase domestic energy exploration, cut red tape, and stop the EPA from shutting down American refineries.”

Sounds pretty damning — if it were true.

You don’t have to search very hard to find that most all politicians — Barrasso included — occasionally suggest manipulating the SPR, depending on gasoline prices and which party happens to hold the White House at the moment. In the run up to the 2008 presidential election (after nearly eight years of George W. Bush in the White House), Barrasso and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) argued and voted in favor of halting shipments into the SPR — not due to a supply interruption. But to help address the political disaster of $4 per gallon gasoline during a presidential election.

The Keystone XL pipeline does, in fact, draw a distinct line in differing views on energy policy. I have yet to hear a sensible argument about how piping Canadian tar sands oil to Gulf Coast refineries and ports can possibly lessen — and not strengthen — our reliance on the world oil market.

Contact Dustin Bleizeffer at 307-577-6069 or dustin@wyofile.com.

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Dustin Bleizeffer

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 22 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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