Facing pressure on gas prices, Obama touts cuts in oil imports

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated there was no mention of President Obama's goal of putting 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

The Obama administration will release a report Monday that shows the United States cut foreign oil imports by 1 million barrels a day in 2011, a 10 percent reduction that the White House said illustrates progress toward achieving greater energy independence.

The 19-page status report lays out steps that six federal agencies have taken to meet President Obama’s call for a “secure, affordable energy future” during a speech at Georgetown University in March 2011.

Among the accomplishments cited are new auto efficiency standards requiring an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, an increase in domestic oil production of 120,000 barrels a day last year and the approval of 29 onshore renewable energy projects — 16 solar projects, five wind farms, and eight geothermal facilities.

Most of the information in the report is not new, but Obama is scheduled to highlight the findings in a series of interviews with television anchors from cities in electoral battleground states, including Orlando, Cincinnati and Denver.

The public relations blitz underscores the mounting political pressure that rising gasoline prices, now averaging $3.77 a gallon nationwide, have posed for the administration in an election year.

The White House is releasing its report on the same day that Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, who have lambasted Obama’s energy policies in recent weeks, will speak at the Gulf Coast Energy Summit. Gingrich has made reducing gasoline prices to $2.50 per gallon a centerpiece of his campaign.

Obama’s GOP critics have pressed him to take stronger actions to relieve the public’s pain at the pump, demanding that he approve the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline and tap the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve to offset the volatility in the global market caused largely by the deteriorating security situation in Iran and the Middle East.

But in a series of recent speeches, including one last week in Mount Holly, N.C., Obama has defended his energy policies and cautioned that there are no “quick fixes” to gasoline price spikes.

Last week, the Senate defeated a measure to expedite the Keystone pipeline after the president personally lobbied several Democratic lawmakers against the bill. The administration had rejected a permit for the project, citing the inability to complete an environmental assessment within a congressionally mandated time frame.

“We can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices — not when we consume 20 percent of the world’s oil,” Obama said in his weekly radio and television address. “We need an all-of-the-above strategy that relies less on foreign oil and more on American-made energy — solar, wind, natural gas, biofuels and more. That’s the strategy we’re pursuing.”

The stakes for Obama in convincing the public of his administration’s efforts are high. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they disapprove of the way the president is handling the situation at the pump, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Just 26 percent approve of his work on the issue, his lowest rating in the survey.

During an appearance at Georgetown University last March, Obama challenged his administration to put the country on a path toward slashing oil imports by one-third over the next decade.

In the status report to be released Monday, agency chiefs from the departments of energy, transportation, interior, agriculture and housing, along with the Environmental Protection Agency, documented the steps they’ve taken to meet those goals, painting a universally sunny picture.

Obama’s “all-of-the-above” energy strategy “is making a difference,” the agency chiefs wrote in a cover letter to the president.

The report finds that the country was importing 11 million barrels of oil a day when Obama was sworn in, but three years later that number has been reduced to 8.4 million barrels. Domestic production of oil and natural gas, meanwhile, has increased each year Obama has been in office, reaching 5.6 million barrels a day at the end of last year.

Yet, as perhaps is to be expected of a report that is intended as more of a political document than a rigorous review, much of what the agency directors highlight as accomplishments are not necessarily the results of Obama administration policies — at least not exclusively.

For example, energy experts have noted that the spike in domestic production of oil and natural gas has taken place largely on land not owned by the federal government. And the decline in oil imports was due in part to decreased demand caused by the nation’s economic recession, at least early in Obama’s presidency, and more recently because of the increased price of crude oil.

And though the report cites an increase in charging stations for electricity-powered automobiles — from 500 in 2008 to more than 18,000 by the end of 2012 — there is no mention that General Motors announced this month that it is suspending production of its electric car, the Chevrolet Volt, due to weak sales.

Obama, who has pushed for 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015, had promised in a recent speech to buy a Volt after he leaves office.

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