John Gurzinski, Associated Press
LAS VEGAS — President Barack Obama is announcing the sale of oil and gas drilling leases for nearly 38 million acres in the Gulf Coast and promoting the completion of a highway corridor for vehicles that run on liquefied natural gas, a response to critics who say his policies have stifled domestic energy production.
Obama was making his announcements in Nevada Thursday, just days after drawing Republican criticism for rejecting a cross-country oil pipeline that would have delivered Canadian tar sands oil to refineries in Texas.
Obama was to speak at a Las Vegas UPS center to showcase a refueling station that will permit vehicles that use liquefied natural gas to travel from the Port of Long Beach to Salt Lake City. The station was built with help from Obama's 2009 economic stimulus plan.
By highlighting the natural gas refueling station and the sale of energy leases on the Gulf, Obama is drawing attention to two aspects of his energy policy — greater domestic energy production and investment in cleaner energy sources.
The nearly 38-million-acre parcel the Obama administration is putting up for lease is part of an offshore drilling plan for 2007-12 put in place by President George W. Bush. But after the massive BP oil spill led to an overhaul of the government's oversight of offshore exploration and production, some of those areas had to be re-evaluated for the environmental risks associated with drilling.
Combined with other parts of Obama's "all-of-the-above" energy pitch, the White House is portraying the president as willing to seek the middle ground on energy after Republicans and the industry criticized him for the moratorium put in place after the Gulf disaster, the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada, and other policies they say have hampered production, jobs and national energy security.
The lease proposal includes Obama administration measures designed to encourage oil and gas exploration companies to develop the leases. The Interior Department has increased the minimum bid for deepwater leases to $100 an acre from $37.50. Administration officials said Wednesday that the increase was designed to give leaseholders incentives to invest in acreage they would be more likely to explore. Escalating rental rates are also designed to encourage faster exploration and development.
Later, speaking at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado, Obama was expected to highlight the expanded use of clean energy by the Defense Department. The Air Force is installing a one-megawatt solar array on the base and it tested jets last year that are powered by advanced biofuels.
In choosing Nevada and Colorado, Obama is returning to two states that are important to his re-election.
Obama last visited both states in late October, using that trip to launch a phase of his campaign to jumpstart the economy. With economic indicators improving, Obama this time visits on a higher note.
Both states hold their presidential caucuses within the next two weeks — events that have grown in importance since the Republican contest for the White House continues to shift and narrow to a choice between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
On Wednesday, Obama traveled to Iowa and Arizona to push for tax incentives for manufacturers. His three-day, post-State of the Union trip concludes Friday in Michigan.
Offering a preview of his energy agenda, Obama said Wednesday he was pushing for a renewed economy. "It's an economy built on American energy, fueled by homegrown and alternative energy sources that make us more secure and less dependent on foreign oil," he told workers at a Cedar Rapids manufacturing plant that specializes in conveyor screws.
Obama won both Nevada and Colorado in 2008. Nevada has had the nation's highest unemployment, in excess of the national average. But a poll in December by the Las Vegas Review-Journal showed Obama with a 6-percentage-point lead over Romney and a 12 point lead over Gingrich.
Colorado offers an example of a state with a mix of energy programs, from a booming solar-energy industry to natural gas extraction that is a result of a compromise between energy companies and environmentalists.
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