Republicans grill administration officials over energy policy

By Jonathan Tilove, The Times-Picayune The Times-Picayune

Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee issued a 43-page report Tuesday accusing the Obama administration of what Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., described as “nothing less than a concerted campaign to raise the price of energy as a means to force the issue of green alternatives.”

Democrats and Republicans disagree on the reason for high gasoline prices. Contractor Mylan Johnson was photographed pumping gas into his truck in Moreland Hills, Ohio, on May 5.

Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, dismissed Issa’s “conspiracy theory,” countering with a 31-page Democratic staff report concluding that the key to lower gas prices is not more drilling but “countering the growing impact of excessive speculation.”

Each report amounted to a compendium of the party’s competing narratives of what and who is to blame for Americans’ pain at the pump.

The Issa report suggests that the Obama administration, in league with environmentalists, is happy to see gas prices rise by thwarting the drilling and hydraulic fracturing that would provide America with access to the largest energy stores on the planet: “greater than Saudi Arabia, China and Canada combined.”

The Cummings report cited expert estimates that oil speculation could be inflating the price of gas by as much as 30 percent, while increasing domestic production would lower prices by only about 1 percent a decade or more from now.

Democrats said that Republicans want to turn a blind eye to abuses by speculators by calling for funding cuts for the policing agency, the Commodity Futures Trading Corporation.

The release of the competing reports came against the backdrop of a hearing of the committee, at which Republicans scornfully cross-examined EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes.

The hearing reached its acrimonious peak when Issa refused to let Hayes complete an answer about the litigation surrounding the administration’s moratorium last year on deepwater drilling after the BP spill, because, Issa said, he didn’t want Hayes to risk perjuring himself.

“We’ll move on because I don’t want you to say anything that ultimately will be bad considering you’re under oath,” Issa said, which led to howls from Cummings and other Democrats.

“You’ve basically implied that this gentleman may be lying,” Cummings said, insisting that Hayes “should be afforded the opportunity to answer the question.”

Issa refused, but Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who was up next, offered the low-key Interior official who frequently testifies before Congress, often alongside his boss, Secretary Ken Salazar, an opportunity to give his answer.

Hayes said the Interior Department lifted its Gulf deepwater drilling moratorium “after a series of public meetings in which we concluded that the basis for the moratorium was satisfied.”

Hayes was also assailed for his assertion — a frequent administration talking point — that oil production in the United States is at its highest level since 2003, with Republicans suggesting the administration is trying to seize credit for decisions made years ago by the Bush administration, and avoid blame for the decline in production that’s sure to come because of Obama administration policies.

Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., lit into Hayes’ assertion of another Obama administration talking point — that industry is failing to drill many existing leases, both on and off shore.

“No one believes that, absolutely no one believes that,” said Mack, asserting that the administration is essentially telling the companies to scrounge for oil in mostly depleted wells rather than look for rich new strikes.

“If you offer them crap, you get crap,” Mack said.

Jackson took her licks from Republicans on the committee, who said the Environmental Protection Agency cares more about the fate of bait minnows than energy development and more about the “welfare of fish,” said Rep. Pat Meehan, R-Pa., than workers at refineries in his district.

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