Crises in Japan, Gulf thwart US energy accord
Friday, March 18, 2011; 8:56 AM
WASHINGTON -- On the road to a national energy policy, President Barack Obama is hitting pothole after pothole.
First, worries over coal-burning plants' role in global warming prompted Obama and other Democrats to look more favorably on offshore oil and gas exploration. Last year's BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico abruptly ended that.
Next came a warmer embrace of nuclear power as part of a possible broad political agreement that might have something for everyone, including expanded energy production and increased efficiency in vehicles and buildings.
Now the crisis in Japan is throwing a shadow over nuclear energy worldwide.
"Those looking for some grand bargain, offering some production component, have just been beaten over the head with the flashlight of events," said Mike McKenna, a Republican energy consultant and lobbyist.
Making matters worse for Obama, a spike in U.S. gasoline prices is angering Americans just as his re-election campaign cranks up. Experts say gas price fluctuations have almost nothing to do with the tragedy in Japan or the Gulf oil spill. But that hasn't stopped Republicans from lumping various issues together and using them to club Obama.
"The evidence of the president's anti-drilling mentality and his culpability in the high gas prices hurting Americans is there for all to see," potential GOP presidential candidate Sarah Palin said in a statement.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell delivered a speech this week highly critical of Obama and congressional Democrats.
"Ask them about gas prices, and chances are they'll tell you about some car they plan to build and have ready for production about 25 years down the road," McConnell said. "Suggest that we tap some of our own domestic American sources of oil, and they'll give you 101 reasons why we can't."
Not only are these cheap shots, Democrats say, but GOP leaders seem to have forgotten the regulatory lapses that contributed to the massive Gulf spill and last April's West Virginia coal mine disaster, which killed 29 miners.
"Let's block any new regulations that will drive up production costs for energy," McConnell said.
Obama defended his energy policies at a news conference last week that was dominated by Libya and Japan.