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Oil war: the ad battle between ‘Big Oil’ and DNC, Part 1

at 01:39 PM ET, 03/30/2012

Since Obama became president, gas prices have nearly doubled. Obama opposed exploring for energy in Alaska. He gave millions of tax dollars to Solyndra, which then went bankrupt. And he blocked the Keystone pipeline so we will all pay more at the pump. Obama’s Energy secretary said we need to — quote — boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe. That’s $9 a gallon.” — Narration from an American Energy Alliance ad

The pro-oil American Energy Alliance and the Democratic National Committee exchanged barbs this week over the president’s energy policies, providing a preview of the hard-hitting rhetorical campaigns and rapid-response reactions that will take place as the general election nears.

AEA claimed that it will spend $3.6 million airing the 30-second advertisement in eight states “in the largest effort of its kind in AEA’s history.”

We’ll examine these ads in the order they were released, looking at the American Energy Alliance commercial first and moving to the DNC video in a later column.

The American Energy Alliance ad mostly recycled and consolidated a number of claims we’ve already fact-checked, but it’s easy to see why this group dragged them back out. The price of gas is at the forefront of voters’ minds, and it’s likely to stay that way until November, with economists predicting that prices will remain high through the summer.

Let’s review the facts one more time, knowing it probably won’t be our last.

The Facts

The first claim in this ad suggests that the president opposed oil drilling in Alaska. A Washington Post article from April 2010 reported that Obama actually approved what was perhaps “the biggest expansion of offshore energy exploration in half a century” when he opened the door to drilling in areas that included waters off Alaska’s coast.

It’s worth noting that the president also declared off-limits the waters along the West Coast and in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, so he didn’t exactly declare open season on drilling. But the average person would probably assume from the ad that the president rejected new energy exploration altogether in the nation’s northernmost state.

So how about the issue of pain at the pump?

The Post created a graphic a while back to show how perception about gas prices doesn’t quite match the reality. Despite the way prices look, they are roughly average after adjusting for inflation. A rate of $1.38 per gallon in 1981 sounds amazing until it’s converted to $3.35 in today’s dollars — better than the current price, but still much higher than when Obama took office.

Inflation-adjusted gas prices have indeed doubled during Obama’s time in the White House, but they were unusually low when he took office because of the massive economic downturn. Rates have gradually increased back to normal levels as the economy has improved. As we said in a previous column, it’s doubtful that anyone wants to return to those conditions for the sake of cheap gas.

In terms of the Keystone XL pipeline, Obama didn’t reject the project “so we will all pay more at the pump.” The official position from the White House is that the State Department didn’t have enough time to review the project, particularly in light of concerns about a section that would have passed through the Nebraska Sandhills, a sensitive habitat.

Neither the State Department nor the president said anything about rejecting the project to increase gas prices. That notion is pure conjecture. Besides, the Obama administration has said that the firm trying to build the structure can reapply once it develops an alternate route.

The president’s critics say this was a missed opportunity to lower gas prices, but we noted in a past column that Keystone XL would have no impact on rates this year. The project wouldn’t even be completed until 2014.

Beyond just the timing of the project, most experts we’ve talked to agree that the pipeline would ultimately have a modest impact or no impact at all on gas prices.

As for the comments by Secretary Chu, the ad quotes him accurately and in context. But he made those comments before Obama was president, and while working as director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a group that researches biofuels and solar-energy technology.

The quote may very well reveal Chu’s true personal beliefs about the best way to combat climate change and reduce fossil-fuel dependence, but the Energy secretary still answers to the president, who said just before his 2009 inauguration that “putting additional burdens on American families right now” with higher gas prices would be “a mistake.”

Much has been said about a certain comment Obama made during an interview when he was running for president. Asked whether high gas prices could help the nation, he replied, “I think that I would have preferred a gradual adjustment.”

We explained in a previous column how the interview transcript reveals that Obama was talking about his proposal to keep prices in check with a holistic approach. His overall pitch included investing in alternative fuels and raising efficiency standards, as well as implementing immediate tax cuts to help citizens cope with pain at the pump.

It’s also worth noting that the president declared his bottom line on gas prices during a March 6 news conference, during which he said, “I want gas prices lower because they hurt families.” Regardless of what Chu prefers, this is the policy he has to follow.

The Pinocchio Test

None of the claims in this ad are entirely true, and some are downright false — like the notion that Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline as a way to raise gas prices. The Chu reference serves as perhaps the most damning piece of evidence in the video, but even that is misleading, because it suggests that the Energy secretary sets energy policy rather than the president. Chu can whisper in Obama’s ear, but the tail doesn’t wag the dog at the end of the day. The ad from American Energy Alliance deserves three Pinocchios.

Three Pinocchios




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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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