Obama's call for domestic energy strategy encounters doubt in Louisiana

01 25, 2012 by The Times-Picayune

Louisiana Republicans reacted skeptically to President Barack Obama's State of the Union call for the same kind of "all-of-the above" energy strategy that they've been advocating, predicting that continued over-regulation by his administration would block efforts to develop more domestic supplies. In his speech, Obama said his policy would rely heavily on increased production of natural gas.

"We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years, and my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy," Obama said. "Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade." But he said it would include environmental safeguards.

"I'm requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use," Obama said. "America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk."

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, said "if the president was sincere about increasing American energy production," he wouldn't have ruled against building the Keystone XL Pipeline between Canada and Gulf Coast refineries, and would have rolled back "radical" EPA regulations.

Obama disputed GOP charges that his administration was too tough on the oil and gas industry, especially after the 2010 BP oil spill.

"I will not back down from making sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf two years ago," Obama said.

On domestic production, he said, "Over the last three years, we've opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I'm directing my administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources."

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said the president's support for expanded energy production was "very important and significant." But she said she would oppose Obama's call for ending tax breaks for the oil industry, particularly for independent producers that are major employers in Louisiana.

"Overall, I give him good marks," Landrieu said. "I thought it was pretty bipartisan -- reaching out to members on both sides of the aisle." She said Obama's call to help the middle class is one all members of Congress should respond to.

Obama insisted during his speech that Congress work with him to foster fairness so that the wealthy aren't given tax breaks they don't need while programs for the middle class are trimmed.

Republicans said it just more of the same class warfare arguments that the president has been making to disguise a continuing weak economy.

But Democrats, including Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, cheered.

"While the fortunes of a few have improved over the years, the fortunes of too many have suffered tremendously," Richmond said. "We must do all we can, together, to improve the lot of all our citizens. It is what makes us Americans, and it is what makes our country great."

But Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said he considered the president's economic statements divisive.

"I think it divides the country, and more importantly his policies can cost us job growth," Vitter said. "We need broad-based tax reform. Get rid of the special interest tax loopholes for everyone and lower the rates for everyone, including the corporate tax rates."

In Louisiana, some teacher union leaders accused Gov. Bobby Jindal of bashing teachers to advance his education reform agenda. The president had his own message on teachers.

"So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let's offer schools a deal," the president said. "Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility to teach with creativity and passion, to stop teaching to the test, and to replace teachers who just aren't helping kids."

Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, didn't find much to like in Obama's speech. "Americans are tired of campaign slogans; we need real solutions," he said.

But Landry said he did agree with one thing the president said: "He said Washington is broken. It is broken," Landry said.

Scalise said leaving the chamber, he rode in an elevator with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who announced that she would step down this week to continue her recovery from gunshot wounds suffered during a town-hall meeting last year. "It was great to see her," Scalise said. "I told her that it's really good to see her."