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Obama to turn attention to energy issues – barring disaster or global crisis

President Obama is expected to outline his plan for energy security in a speech this week, followed by visits to companies operating energy-efficient vehicles. Japan's earthquake and tsunami, and Middle East turmoil, have overshadowed his earlier efforts to discuss energy.

March 29, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — After a speech meant to bring clarity to U.S. engagement in crises abroad, President Obama will turn his attention to what aides say will be a sustained focused on energy issues in the coming weeks.

On Wednesday, Obama will outline his plan for America's energy security in a speech at Georgetown University in Washington. It will be followed with a visit Friday to a UPS facility in nearby Landover, Md., in which Obama will inspect energy-efficient vehicles operated by major businesses like AT&T, FedEx and PepsiCo.

In his State of the Union address in January, Obama called for investments in clean energy technology as part of his "Winning the Future" agenda. Earlier in March, Obama called a news conference to address the rising cost of gasoline and called for "a comprehensive energy strategy that pursues both more energy production and more energy conservation."

But it was also almost one year ago to the day that Obama made a similar push on energy security, announcing his administration would support an expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration. He said the decision was "part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy."

One month later, the risks of such drilling became apparent with the April 20 explosion at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig off the Gulf Coast, which triggered a massive oil spill threatening the entire coastal region. In response, the president enacted a six-month moratorium on permits for new deepwater wells, among other actions.

Amid concern that the continued increasing price of oil could derail a fragile economic recovery, Republicans have ratcheted up criticism of the president for pursuing a strategy that limits America's energy potential.

"For two years, the administration has canceled dozens of oil and gas leases all across America. It's raised permit fees. It's shut down deep-water drilling in the Gulf. It won't even allow a conversation about exploring for oil in a remote, 2,000-acre piece of land in northern Alaska that experts think represents one of our best opportunities for a major oil find," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday. "In the midst of average gas prices approaching $4 a gallon and a chronic jobs crisis, the White House plans to make the climate for job growth worse."

Obama has seemingly been snakebit each time he's attempted to shift his focus to domestic issues. The energy message of his March news conference was overshadowed by the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan that morning. At the same time, no discussion of energy issues can ignore the effect of unrest in the Middle East, given the effect it has had on oil prices.

A Gallup survey this month found that 60% of Americans would support increasing offshore drilling, a 10% increase in support from the last survey in May 2010.

michael.memoli@latimes.com

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