Former Gov. Mitt Romney says President Obama should fire three of his cabinet members over skyrocketing fuel prices. He berates Obama for showering government subsidies on politically well-connected alternative energy companies. And he blasts the president for failing to open up more public land and offshore areas to oil and gas drilling to boost domestic production.
“In thrall to the environmentalist lobby and its dogmas, the President and the regulatory bodies under his control have taken measures to limit energy exploration and restrict development in ways that sap economic performance, curtail growth, and kill jobs,” Romney said in a policy statement.
Romney hopes to polish off former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum with strong victories Tuesday in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Wisconsin. As he turns his attention from the GOP presidential primary campaign to the general election, Romney has sharpened his attack on Obama’s energy and economic policies to capitalize on growing public anger over rising gas prices.
While the president’s overall popularity is rising, only 38 percent of Americans approve of his handling of energy policy, according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll. Yet Romney has stopped short of claiming that any president can control the price of gasoline amid global economic and political forces. Romney is finding it harder than he may have thought to make political hay over gas prices fast approaching $4 per gallon, especially with Obama repeatedly claiming credit for increased domestic oil production and attacking Republicans for “standing with big oil companies” against U.S. consumers.
Late last week, Obama called on Congress to end billions in federal subsidies to the five major oil companies. He said, “I think it’s time they got by without more help from taxpayers who are having a tough enough time paying their bills and filling up their tanks.” Senate Democrats immediately attempted to push through a bill to end those subsidies, but Republicans stepped in to block the measure – providing Obama and the Democrats with an important talking point.
Obama boasts that domestic oil production has increased and oil imports have declined since he took office, and that he has opened millions of acres of federal land to help spur oil and gas exploration. Indeed, the U.S. is importing 10 percent less oil this year than last year, and the country is producing more oil than at any time in the past eight years. But independent analysts attribute much of the decline in oil imports to slack U.S. demand in a slowly recovery economy and more fuel-efficient vehicles. About 96 percent of the total increase in domestic production occurred on private land, not federal property, according to a Congressional Research Service study.
“Mitt Romney has a much more aggressive, pro-market fossil fuel agenda where he talks about opening up resources for exploration and development,” said Nicolas Loris, an energy policy analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation. “The president consistently says that oil production has been the highest it’s been in eight years and that’s true. But it’s largely a result of what’s happening in Alaska, Texas and as of late North Dakota and all of this is happening on private lands, not public lands.”