|Steven Chu's Europe gas quote haunts President Obama|
By BOB KING | from lorne
Can Steven Chu have a do-over?
President Barack Obama’s Energy secretary unwittingly created a durable GOP talking point in September 2008 when he talked to The Wall Street Journal about the benefits of having gasoline prices rise over 15 years to encourage energy efficiency.
“Somehow,” Chu said, “we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.”
Chu, a Nobel-winning physicist and director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, was not yet a member of the not-yet-in-existence Obama administration. But Republican politicians and conservative pundits have seized on his words as evidence that the White House is deliberately driving gasoline prices higher — ensuring that Chu’s remarks are the energy policy sound bite that will not die.
Newt Gingrich was the latest to jump on the bandwagon, telling CBS’s “This Morning” on Tuesday that Obama’s “outrageously anti-American” energy policy is aimed at increasing the price at the pump.
“Chu, his Energy secretary, said in 2008 he wanted gasoline prices to get to the European level, which is $9 or $10 a gallon,” Gingrich said.
A column Tuesday on Andrew Breitbart’s website Big Government also dredged up the 2008 quote, sardonically observing that “Mr. Chu’s energy plans appear to be working.”
Similar themes came last week from Investors Business Daily, which cited Chu’s remarks as evidence that Obama is “secretly cheering” for price spikes, and from Denver Post columnist Vincent Carroll, who accused Obama and Chu of pursuing a “castor oil theory” of economic growth.
The popularity of Chu’s now-infamous quotation tends to track the rise and fall of gas prices: It enjoyed a huge surge of attention last spring and summer before largely vanishing from view in the fall, leading up to this month’s renaissance, according to the LexisNexis database.
Never mind that some energy experts say Chu had it exactly right, and that higher fuel prices would encourage consumers to buy more efficient vehicles, discourage suburban sprawl, make renewables more competitive and reduce U.S. reliance on imported oil. Not even Chu’s department is making that argument these days.
"As he has consistently said, Secretary Chu understands how much high global oil prices can affect families at the gas pump,” DOE spokeswoman Jen Stutsman said Tuesday. She said long-term relief will come from strategies like the administration’s drive for higher fuel-efficiency standards in vehicles, which will slash oil consumption and “save families $1.7 trillion at the pump.”
DOE didn’t reply to a question about what Chu intended by his remarks in 2008.
In describing Chu’s remarks three months after the fact, in December 2008, the Journal reported that he “has called for gradually ramping up gasoline taxes over 15 years to coax consumers into buying more-efficient cars and living in neighborhoods closer to work.” But the article said Obama dismissed one strategy for raising the price — a hike in the federal gasoline tax — on the grounds that it would put "additional burdens on American families right now.”
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama isn’t the cause of the rising prices and understands the pain they cause Americans.
“The fact is that the president is very aware of the impact that the global price of oil has on families and this is not something that this administration discovered, or rediscovered every spring, as some politicians do,” Carney said.
Experts have said that the price of oil, a global commodity, largely rises and falls based on forces such as unrest in the Middle East, demand by countries like China and activity in U.S. factories.
The monthly average retail gasoline price hit a modern-era peak of $4.26 a gallon in inflation-adjusted dollars in June 2008 — the summer of “drill, baby, drill” — before plummeting to $1.80 in the next six months during the financial collapse, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The EIA predicts that prices will rise to as high as $3.64 a gallon this spring, while some pundits say they could hit $4 a gallon or higher.