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Romney turns up the heat on Obama energy policies

By Tom Cohen, CNN
updated 12:54 PM EDT, Sun March 18, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Obama's top campaign adviser calls GOP claims to lower gas prices "snake oil talk"
  • Mitt Romney says two Cabinet ministers and the EPA head need to go
  • The Republican presidential hopeful attacks President Obama's energy policies
  • The president says he favors developing all energy sources to reduce foreign oil dependency

Washington (CNN) -- Mitt Romney escalated Republican attacks on President Barack Obama's energy policies Sunday, calling for the firing or resignations of what he labeled the "gas hike trio" of top energy and environment officials in the administration.

The Republican presidential hopeful's remarks on "Fox News Sunday" illustrated a GOP strategy to target Obama for rising gas prices as part of a campaign narrative that depicts the president as stifling U.S. production in order to boost alternative energy sources.

On Sunday, the AAA reported that the national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline rose to $3.84 for an increase of almost 17% so far this year, according to www.fuelgaugereport.com.

CNNMoney: Gas prices up for ninth consecutive day

Polls indicate Obama may be vulnerable on the issue, with his slowly rising approval rating in recent months appearing to stagnate or drop as gas prices have spiked.

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Romney appeared eager to exploit the issue Sunday following similar comments he made the night before at a campaign event in Illinois, the next major primary in the Republican presidential race to decide who will run against Obama in November.

"There's no question" that Obama is to blame for higher gas prices, Romney said on Fox, adding that the president wanted higher energy costs to help speed the transition from oil and other fossil fuels.

"He has selected three people to help him implement that program," Romney said of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, "and this gas hike trio has been doing the job over the last three and a half years, and gas prices are up."

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According to Romney, Obama had an "election-year conversion" and now advocates increased U.S. oil drilling as well as natural gas and coal energy development. Therefore, Romney said, the threesome of Chu, Salazar and Jackson "ought to be fired" or should "hand in their resignations."

"It's a very different policy that he's now talking about, and I hope it's a real conversion," Romney said. "Time will tell."

Obama contends that oil prices are set by a global market and there is little that any administration can do in the short term to prevent recurring price spikes, like what is happening now.

In recent weeks, the president has ridiculed Republican assertions that increased drilling could lower gas prices, saying such claims were either misinformed or deliberately misleading.

"That's not oil talk. That's snake oil talk, and the American people know the difference," David Axelrod, Obama's senior campaign adviser, told the CBS program "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

Axelrod said Obama advocates a broad energy policy that invests in clean energy alternatives while continuing oil, gas and nuclear development. When asked about Romney's claim that Obama sought higher energy costs, Axelrod called it "nonsense," noting that domestic production now was greater than any time in the last eight years.

However, Republicans including Romney and fellow presidential contender Newt Gingrich call for accelerated drilling and development of U.S. oil and natural gas reserves as a way to end U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

They criticize Obama for holding back domestic oil development and argue Obama's policies have little to do with increased production happening now.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told the CBS program that today's increased domestic oil production was due to polices under the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, rather than anything Obama has done.

"This president has shut down everything when it comes to energy independence in this country," Priebus said.

Last week, Salazar pushed back hard against that argument, telling White House reporters that such attacks by Republicans were "simply wrong."

"The fact of the matter is that we are producing more from public lands, both oil and gas, both onshore as well as offshore, than at any time in recent memory," Salazar said. "And when you look back at the year of 2009, 2010, and 2011, we've continued to make millions and millions of acres of the public estate available both on the land, as well as on the sea."

Even after the Gulf oil disaster, Salazar said, new permits have been issued for both deepwater and shallow water drilling and "more rigs working there than at any recent time in memory."

At the same briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that "if increasing drilling were the answer in the United States to lowering prices at the pump, we would be seeing lower prices at the pump, because under President Obama we have increased significantly domestic oil and gas production. That is a fact."

In the Fox interview Sunday, Romney also criticized the Obama administration's rejection of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada's tar sands development to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Romney said the Keystone decision demonstrated bad policy by stifling job creation at the same time that the government was giving $500 million to Solyndra, the failed solar panel manufacturer.

However, Romney's assertion misstated the timing of those events. The Solyndra loan occurred in 2009, during Obama's first year in office, while the State Department rejected a permit for the Keystone pipeline earlier this year.

The Keystone permit was turned down after congressional Republicans forced a decision as planners continued seeking an alternate route through Nebraska requested by state officials.

TransCanada, the company developing the pipeline, has said it will reapply for approval of an alternate route, and in the meantime will construct one segment of the project from Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast that doesn't require State Department approval.

Axelrod told CBS that Obama was "not hostile to transporting oil, but we have to do it in an appropriate way."

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