GOP cautious as Obama uses high gas prices to tout green tech

President Barack Obama wants to keep oil prices high to boost favored green-tech companies, some energy experts say, though you wouldn’t know it from the relatively tame criticism by senior Republicans on the matter.

Obama and his deputies “support certain forms of energy, and the best way to make them affordable is to break the kneecap of existing sources of [oil and coal] energy,” said Dan Kish, a senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research.

“It’s the Tonya Harding approach to energy,” Kish said, referring to a 1994 incident in which the figure skater’s associates attempted to injure a rival ahead of a competition.

That’s a stronger message than the one pitched by GOP legislators, who tend to blame Obama for high oil prices without accusing the president of actually desiring them.

House Speaker John Boehner, for example, said today that he thinks Obama “would prefer to see lower gas prices, at least through election day.” However, Boehner added, Obama’s energy secretary “has made it pretty clear [on Jan. 28] that his goal is to have higher energy prices.”

Obama highlighted his focus on green technology again today when he tried to minimize the political damage caused by high gas prices in an energy speech in Nashua, N.H.

In the speech, Obama ridiculed the prospects of a near-term drop in gas prices and touted his funding for alternative technology development. (RELATED: Full coverage of the Obama presidency)

“There are no short-term silver bullets when it comes to gas prices,” the president told students and employees at Nashua Community College.

However, “as long as I am president, I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy,” he declared.

To make the sale, Obama shifted the focus from oil prices and green-tech subsidies — which total more than$35 billion since 2009 — by saying the country would gain from reducing oil imports and cutting oil companies’ tax breaks.

The percentage of oil imported for consumers has dropped by one-quarter — from 60 percent to 45 percent — since 2005, according to a chart Obama displayed during his speech. However, green-tech did not play a major role in that decline, which was caused both by the launch of domestic oil projects approved prior to Obama’s inauguration and by a sharp decline in driving since 2008.

Obama also sought today to turn oil companies into scapegoat for oil prices. “It is outrageous, it’s inexcusable” that oil companies receive an estimated $4 billion a year in business-related tax breaks, he said.

Cutting those subsidies would likely spur oil prices, Kish said.

However, short-term oil prices could be reduced by a credible presidential commitment to oil-sector investment, he added.

In July 2008, gas prices dropped by 6.3 percent to $136 per barrel during a short speech by former President George W. Bush, in which he promised to open new coastal zones to oil exploration.

A presidential commitment to oil exploration could quickly drive down prices, said John Felmy, chief economist at the American Petroleum Institute. For example, he said, prices could be shifted by “a serious speech about aggressively moving forward on a five-year plan” that would open new onshore and offshore drilling opportunities.