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Obama Showcases His Energy Policy On 2-Day Tour


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

President Obama visits Oklahoma today, talking of speeding construction for a major oil pipeline. Yesterday, he visited a solar panel farm in Nevada. Those were just two of the stops on a presidential effort to defend his energy policies. He's under pressure from Republicans because of rising gas prices.

And we start our coverage with NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama stood on a windswept oil field in New Mexico last night, boasting, not for the first time, that U.S. oil production is at an eight-year high.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If you hear anybody on TV saying that somehow we're against drilling for oil, then you'll know that they either don't know what they're talking about or they're not telling you the truth.

HORSLEY: But Mr. Obama argues, because oil is priced on the world market, in which U.S. producers play a relatively small part, drilling alone is not enough to rein in gas prices. He says the U.S. also needs to boost its fuel efficiency, and develop alternative sources of energy.

OBAMA: I believe this all-of-the-above approach is the only way we can continue to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and ultimately put an end to some of these gas spikes that we're going through right now and that obviously hurt a lot of families all across the country.

HORSLEY: This two-day tour is meant to showcase that all-of-the-above approach. Yesterday, Mr. Obama also dropped by a sprawling solar farm, where acres of photovoltaic cells turn sunshine into electricity. Republicans criticized the administration for sinking taxpayer dollars into failed solar companies like Solyndra. The GOP budget would sharply curtail support for alternative energy. But Mr. Obama insists he's not giving up.

OBAMA: The payoffs aren't always going to come right away. Sometimes you need a jumpstart to make it happen. That's been true of every innovation that we've ever had.

HORSLEY: A Pew Research poll released this week suggests public support for an all-of-the-above strategy. While Republicans in the survey lean towards fossil fuels and Democrats lean towards alternative energy, pollster Andrew Kohut says majorities in both parties support a multi-pronged approach.

ANDREW KOHUT: The solution for most of them is, let's do everything. I mean we get 78 percent say, require better fuel efficiency for vehicles. Sixty-nine percent say let's - I favor more funding for research on wind, solar, and hydrogen. And, of course, you get 65 percent saying allow more offshore drilling in U.S. waters.

HORSLEY: Public attitudes can be volatile. Support for offshore drilling dropped sharply two years ago in the wake of the BP oil spill. Since then, it's bounced back, and Kohut says today, it's as if the spill never happened.

KOHUT: Our short memories are boosted by high prices at the pump.

HORSLEY: That's what prompted the president to launch this largely defensive energy tour. Three of his four stops are in political battleground states where Mr. Obama can ill afford to lose votes among disgruntled drivers.

The fourth stop is the Republican stronghold of Oklahoma. Energy analyst Philip Verleger says Cushing, Oklahoma has long been a crossroads for oil pipelines. Today, it's jammed up.

PHILIP VERLEGER: Cushing has become the bottleneck for the distribution of crude oil in the United States. Production has grown very rapidly and they didn't build enough pipelines quickly enough.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama signs an executive order today, expediting permits for a pipeline running from Cushing to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas. The line is being built by the same company that wants to build a pipeline from Canada to the U.S. The Obama administration blocked that line - at least temporarily. The president says pipelines that do go forward must protect natural resources and meet the concerns of local communities.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, with the president in Oklahoma City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.