ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And I'm Audie Cornish.
In this part of the program, the sway of election year politics on two key policies - energy and health care. We'll start with energy. The national average for a gallon of gas rose to $3.88 today. If the price hikes continue, they could become a political liability for President Obama. This afternoon, the president told supporters in Columbus, Ohio, the best way to fight high gas prices is with a mix of policies: pump more oil, build more efficient cars and develop more alternatives.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So as long as I'm president, America is going to be pursuing an all-of-the-above energy strategy. Yes, we'll develop as much oil and gas as we can in a safe way, but we're also going to develop wind power and solar power.
CORNISH: Today's speech wrapped up the president's energy tour that also took him to Nevada, New Mexico and Oklahoma. NPR's Scott Horsley has been riding along.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The tour was designed as a point-by-point defense of the president's energy policies against criticism that's ratcheting up along with the price of gas. Most of the stops were in political swing states. But this morning, Mr. Obama was in Oklahoma, where the politics are as red as the muddy soil. Visiting a pipeline storage yard near Cushing, Oklahoma, Mr. Obama passed a group of protesters holding signs that read: Keystone, yes. Here, as at other stops along the tour, Mr. Obama confronted the criticism head on.
OBAMA: This whole issue of the Keystone pipeline has generated, obviously, a lot of controversy and a lot of politics.
HORSLEY: Republicans have blasted the president for blocking that proposed pipeline to carry oil from the Canadian tar sands through Cushing and onto the Gulf of Mexico. Mr. Obama says the original route could have jeopardized the vast Ogallala Aquifer. He says he's still happy to consider alternative routes. And today, he ordered federal agencies to expedite permits for the southern stretch of the Keystone - the part that carries oil from Cushing to refineries along the Gulf Coast.
OBAMA: The fact is that my administration has approved dozens of new oil and gas pipelines over the last three years, including one from Canada. And as long as I'm president, we're going to keep on encouraging oil development and infrastructure. And we're going to do it in a way that protects the health and safety of the American people.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama says the country needs more pipelines to carry all the additional oil that's now being pumped here. Domestic oil production is the highest it's been in eight years. And energy analyst Philip Verleger says that's turned Cushing, a longtime pipeline hub, into a very crowded crossroads.
PHILIP VERLEGER: It's like every other interstate highway in the country. At one point, there wasn't much traffic. Now, it's bumper to bumper.
HORSLEY: Republicans argue Mr. Obama deserves little credit for all that additional oil being produced - most of it on private lands. But Verleger says the president has made an important contribution to energy policy on the demand side.
VERLEGER: Obama has done one very good thing, and that was to get the auto industry to sign on to much tougher fuel economy standards.
HORSLEY: Building cars that go farther on a gallon of gas is one sure way to cushion the impact of high prices, at least in the long term. It's also one energy policy that's unquestionably the president's own.
OBAMA: And after 30 years of not doing anything, we put in place some of the toughest fuel economy standards in our history. And now by the middle of the next decade, our cars will average nearly 55 miles per gallon, which is going to save the average family about $8,000 during the life of that car. I know you can use $8,000. Absolutely. I don't know anybody who can't.
HORSLEY: This afternoon, Mr. Obama toured the Center for Automotive Research at Ohio State University. The research center represents a different kind of pipeline. Instead of bringing more oil or gasoline to market, its goal is to bring cars that use less.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, Columbus, Ohio.
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