State of the Union: Why Obama energy blueprint has Republicans fuming

Obama's State of the Union endorsement of an 'all of the above' strategy for energy production rankled Republicans, who see it as disingenuous given his Keystone XL pipeline rejection and fracking probes.

Larry Downing/Reuters
President Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington Tuesday night. Obama hit on several dozen topics during his speech, but his statements on energy policy rankled congressional Republicans the most.

President Obama hit several dozen topics in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, but none rankled congressional Republicans quite like his statements on energy policy.

“On a scale from one to outrageous, it was closer to outrageous,” said Rep. Phil Gingrey (R) of Georgia.

When Mr. Obama boomed that America needed “an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy,” the GOP side of the aisle leapt to its feet in applause -- but with many wry smiles blooming throughout the chamber. Why the ironic disposition?

It wasn’t so much the content of the president’s speech that had Republicans spitting tacks in the post-speech spin room. It’s that they believe the president, as Representative Gingrey put it, “says one thing and does something else.”

Obama promised to “open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources,” which GOP lawmakers saw as taking almost everything except for the Gulf of Mexico out of the drilling equation.

While they didn’t dispute the president’s assertion that America sits atop a store of natural gas that could last for a century, Republicans saw the administration as giving with one hand while taking with the other.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California, chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, called Obama’s pledge to require the disclosure of ingredients used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a technique responsible for accessing America’s copious amounts of shale gas, a “not-so-veiled-threat.”

“These are trade secrets,” Representative Issa said. “He has a right to get a sample of the chemical they’re putting down – that’s very different than making them disclose their secret ingredients. And I’m sure he drinks Diet Coke, I’m sure he’d like that recipe too – but it’s not his right.”

Shale gas, or natural gas trapped in sedimentary rock formations, is projected to become a massive part of US natural-gas production. The most recent estimate from the US Energy Information Administration, released Monday, projects that shale gas production will balloon from 23 percent of American natural-gas production in 2010 to nearly 50 percent by 2035.

Speaking of two ongoing investigations into the environmental impacts of fracking at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior, Issa said the president is well on his way to halting the extraction of such resources even as he praised them in the State of the Union.

“We’ve had verifiable leaks and statements that both the studies being done on hydraulic fracturing are ... ‘predetermined’ to show that fracking is wrong,” he said. “In other words, they’ve set out to stop fracking, and between his ordering the chemical disclosure and the two studies under way, they do intend on eliminating this ... very tremendous fruit.”

But what really set Republicans ablaze was the president's discussion of an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy just days after rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline project, a 1,700-mile oil conduit that would have run from Alberta, Canada, to Port Arthur, Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico.

“Clearly he was speaking very hypocritically, when he stopped an international deal where there were 20,000 jobs and the goodwill of our closest ally” at stake, Issa said. “That’s one of the most disingenuous parts of tonight’s speech.”

Even Rep. Lee Terry (R) of Nebraska, who commended Obama for many of his points on energy and the “all-the-above” strategy, said the Keystone question is a serious concern.

“The issue is: Does he mean it?” Representative Terry said. “Right on the heels of rejecting the Keystone pipeline, that shows that he’s not really in favor of the all-of-the-above strategy. He’d reject tens of thousands of jobs from an oil pipeline that would make us less dependent on foreign oil and make us more energy secure – his actions aren’t matching his words. Maybe he’s going to repent on his decision from last week and lead us in a new direction.”

Republicans had less to say about the president’s sustainable energy pitch, couched as a way to create well-paying jobs in the United States. Telling the story of an American laid off from a furniture plant before finding work at a wind turbine manufacturer, Obama vowed to “not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here.”

One group of swing voters gathered by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg rated Obama’s discussion of renewable energy nearly as positively as they did the debate’s most highly rated moment: discussion of Osama bin Laden’s demise.

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