Obama Discusses Details From His Energy Agenda

The Obama administration released more details Thursday about the energy plan he previewed at the State of the Union this week. He announced an oil-and-gas-lease sale on nearly 38 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico — and proposals for new incentives to increase the use of natural gas in heavy trucks and buses.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

President Obama was in Nevada today, promoting his efforts to increase oil and gas production.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today, I'm announcing that my administration will soon open up around 38 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for additional exploration and development, which could result in a lot more production of domestic energy.

BLOCK: NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports that the president's new petroleum push is unpopular with environmentalists and Republicans.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN, BYLINE: President Obama is starting off the New Year by reshaping himself into a champion, not just of clean energy, but of fossil fuels, too.

OBAMA: For decades, Americans have been talking about - how do we decrease our dependence on foreign oil? Well, my administration has actually begun to do something about it.

SHOGREN: Oil production is up and Americans are using less gasoline. As a result, America is importing less foreign oil than it has for 16 years. The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee says that's no thanks to President Obama.

REPRESENTATIVE DOC HASTINGS: He has done nothing about it. His rhetoric sounds that way, but in fact, that is not the case.

SHOGREN: Republican Doc Hastings says policies of previous presidents boosted oil production. Hastings says President Obama has stood in the way. For example, he cancelled lease sales in Utah and slowed offshore drilling after the BP spill.

Energy analyst Kevin Book says the president's renewed focus on petroleum shows he gets how crucial the industry is for the future.

KEVIN BOOK: The message that energy production creates jobs has been internalized at the highest level of government.

SHOGREN: And yet, Book says the proposals the president is trumpeting aren't really new. For instance, the lease sale announced today was originally planned by the Bush Administration. In the State of the Union, the president said more offshore leases are on the way in the next five years in the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska.

Environmentalists say the plan is too aggressive. Frances Beinecke, the executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, was on Obama's national commission on the BP spill.

FRANCES BEINECKE: The oil and gas industry is not investing in the safeguards that are required to ensure that spills don't occur.

SHOGREN: The president's new energy push isn't all about oil. He's calling for more homegrown production of natural gas and clean renewable power, too.

Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News.

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