Better dialogue between the White House and the oil and gas industry has lobbyists and congressional Republicans screaming “politics,” arguing that both sides have something to gain from warmer relations in an election year. But National Journal’s Energy & Environment Insiders say that this ostensible “détente” won’t really do much for President Obama in November.
Nearly 70 percent of Insiders polled said that improved relations with Big Oil won’t help the president at the polls, many pointing out that no one has noticed these developments outside the Beltway and that campaign donations from the industry will still mostly flow to Republicans.
“Follow the money. When oil and gas trade associations shift PAC contributions away from Romney/GOP, then it will help the president,” said one Insider. “Until then, this is less détente than a cold peace.”
Earlier this month, American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard told National Journal Daily that communications between the industry and the White House have improved “dramatically” in recent months. Congressional Republicans were already well aware of that and were not happy. In an April 23 e-mail obtained by NJD, a senior aide on energy issues to Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member James Inhofe, R-Okla., criticized oil and gas lobbyists for working closely with the White House.
Despite the growing anxiety over the improved relations, Insiders argue that the whole food fight has likely gone unnoticed outside of Washington, where voters still see Republicans as aligned with the oil industry and the Obama administration aligned with the environmental movement.
“Energy-industry leaders understand this is all about politics and that this administration’s heart is with the Sierra Club in stopping ALL fossil fuels.… American people don’t care,” said one Insider, arguing that the story is “too inside Beltway.”
Still, 31 percent of Insiders said the Obama administration’s efforts to make nice with the oil and gas industry will actually pay off. “The White House obviously thinks it will,” one Insider said. “How else can you explain the warming relations at this point?”
Improved relations with the industry will “marginally” help Obama “with independent voters who want to see Washington working and not riven with partisan dysfunction,” said another Insider.
Obama wouldn’t have taken this gamble if he didn’t think it would pay off, some Insiders said, arguing that his drift toward more moderate policies is no accident.
“The president has been navigating towards the economic center since November 2010 and a pro-production veneer will certainly help make that case (even if it doesn’t last),” said one Insider.
That doesn’t mean Republicans will back off from attacking Obama on his energy policies. While improved relations between the White House and big oil have thrown a wrench into some of their plans, 93 percent of Insiders say Republicans have plenty of material left.
Whether it’s the administration refusing to “drill, baby, drill,” delayng the Keystone XL pipeline, imposing tough environmental regulations, or backing a big loan to struggling solar company Solyndra, Republicans are not short on ammunition to fire at Obama on energy issues.
“It may be harder now for Republicans to land punches related to oil and gas, because the administration has called off the dogs, but many voters still think the president would like to thwart production and consumption of fossil fuels,” said one Insider. “Every time the president singles out the oil and gas industry for unfavorable tax treatment, voters are reminded of the White House's true goals."
Insiders said that energy issues will continue to be a sticking point in this election — to the very end.
“Energy is one of the president's biggest vulnerabilities. From Solyndra to 'cap and tax,' the administration has pursued one energy flop after another. The president's campaign team must agree, since their first ad was a defensive spot on their energy record, and the follow-up was a campaign swing through the country's energy heartland,” said another Insider. “Republicans are going to continue to pound away on the president's energy record to make sure he doesn't get away with trying to mask it.”
Will the apparent warming relations between the oil and gas industry and the White House help President Obama in November?
- Yes 31%
- No 69%
“The president has been navigating towards the economic center since November 2010 and a pro-production veneer will certainly help make that case (even if it doesn't last).”
“The best case for this proposition was made by Senate Republican staff who chastised the industry for working constructively on their issues with the administration.”
“It is clearly damage control, as the president realized that there was a good argument to be made that he was opposed to domestic fossil-fuel resources. The thaw, therefore, might provide the president some much needed cover, however it is unlikely that industry will soon forget the poor treatment for the past three years.”
“The White House obviously thinks it will. How else can you explain the warming relations at this point?”
“Perhaps marginally so with independent voters who want to see Washington working and not riven with partisan dysfunction. Not sure I accept the premise of the question, though, as I think actions by White House are a political short-term strategic retreat more than anything else.”
“Even during the worst periods of World War I, opposing troops sometimes left their bunkers to celebrate holidays. They then returned to the trenches to continue the fight.”
“I understand keeping your enemies close, but when this relationship erupts, it'll be the president that gets fracked.”
“I don't think anyone outside the Beltway thinks they have thawed that much.”
“We see this every election cycle — the Democrats get close to big business in the hopes they'll get strong support and backing in the election, but big business always hedges its bets, gives to both parties, and generally vocally supports GOP policies. It won't do much for Obama's numbers.”
“It’s an election year with high gas prices, so the Chicago campaign advisers are repeating their 2008 strategy of trying to reinvent the president as being pro-domestic energy production. The difference this time around is, he has a record to defend.”
“Unless Obama has an epiphany on [the] Keystone [XL pipeline], anyone who cares about an energy bill considers him a “some of the above” president when it comes to energy choices.”
“Big oil will continue to pour money into American Crossroads and other super PAC’s to defeat President Obama’s reelection bid. Like Republicans in Congress, Big oil will only be satisfied if the president is a one-termer.”
“What warming? Weren’t industry and the administration just trading accusations over unused leases?… Whatever thaw is happening it isn’t all that visible, and certainly not on the campaign trail. No help for Obama in November.”
“I don’t think improved relations with the industry really matter from an electoral perspective. The industry will continue to finance both the Romney campaign and pro-Romney super PACs in far greater amounts than the Obama campaign, and the industry will continue to bash the president because it is far better off under a Romney administration.”
Will Republicans be able to continue attacks on Obama’s energy policies in light of the perception that the oil and gas industry is getting along better with the White House?
- Yes 93%
- No 7%
“EPA actions during the Obama years provide plenty of material for Republicans to criticize. Moreover, oil and gas aren't the only hydrocarbons American companies produce and use — the White House has much less shelter on coal.”
“Even with warm relations, more than eight out of 10 attack ads against the president are about his energy policy.”
“The GOP has never let facts stand in the way of ridiculous attacks. Why would that change now?”
“They will try their best to differentiate themselves, but it will be a hard sell.”
“As long as gasoline prices remain high, the president is vulnerable to political criticism from Republicans on his energy policies.”
“Neither party lets the facts stand in the way of a good story.”
“Yes. Despite the fact that domestic oil production is up, the switch from coal to natural gas will be driven in part by EPA regulation and [that] the price of oil is set on a global market, Republicans will continue calls for 'drill, baby, drill,' attacks over Keystone XL, gas prices, fracking, and Solyndra. Count on it. Old habits die hard.”
“The manufactured détente means nothing outside of the Beltway. Fuel prices have softened, but $3.70 [a gallon] still takes a huge toll on families. And at the end of the day, the White House can't deny that 83 percent of all federal lands are off limits to energy production, and production on federal lands is down.”
“It may be harder now for Republicans to land punches related to oil and gas because the administration has called off the dogs, but many voters still think the president would like to thwart production and consumption of fossil fuels. Every time the president singles out the oil and gas industry for unfavorable tax treatment, voters are reminded of the White House's true goals. I think voters get that when you tax something, you get less of it.”
“There's still plenty of ammunition for the Republicans, and they will be able to use it effectively in at least a few states — places where people really care a lot about coal, oil, and natural gas.”
“Energy is one of the president's biggest vulnerabilities. From Solyndra to 'cap and tax,' the administration has pursued one energy flop after another. The president's campaign team must agree, since their first ad was a defensive spot on their energy record, and the follow-up was a campaign swing through the country's energy heartland. Republicans are going to continue to pound away on the president's energy record to make sure he doesn't get away with trying to mask it.”
“I think the biggest problem for Republicans is that gasoline prices have eased. The attack line isn't working as elegantly now.”
National Journal’s Energy and Environment Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of energy policy experts. They include:
Jeff Anderson, Paul Bailey, Kenneth Berlin, Andrew J. Black, Denise Bode, Kevin Book, Pat Bousliman, Michael Bromwich, David Brown, Neil Brown, Stephen Brown, Kateri Callahan, McKie Campbell, Guy Caruso, Neil Chatterjee, Paul Cicio, Douglas Clapp, Eileen Claussen, Steve Cochran, Phyllis Cuttino, Kyle Danish, Lee Dehihns, Robbie Diamond, David Di Martino, Bob Dinneen, Sean Donahue, Tom Dower, Jeff Duncan, John Felmy, Mike Ference, David Foster, Josh Freed, Don Furman, Paul Gilman, Richard Glick, Kate Gordon, Chuck Gray, Jason Grumet, Christopher Guith, Lewis Hay, Fritz Hirst, Jeff Holmstead, David Holt, Skip Horvath, Bob Irvin, Bill Johnson, Gene Karpinski, Joseph T. Kelliher, Brian Kennedy, Kevin Knobloch, David Kreutzer, Fred Krupp, Tom Kuhn, Con Lass, Mindy Lubber, Frank Maisano, Drew Maloney, Roger Martella, John McArther, Mike McKenna, Bill McKibben, Kristina Moore, Richard Myers, Aric Newhouse, Frank O’Donnell, Mike Olson, T. Boone Pickens, Thomas Pyle, Hal Quinn, Rhone Resch, Barry Russell, Joseph Schultz, Bob Simon, Scott Sklar, Bill Snape, Jeff Sterba, Linda Stuntz, Christine Tezak, Susan Tierney, Andrew Wheeler, Brian Wolff, Franz Wuerfmannsdobler, and Todd Young.
This article appears in the May 18, 2012, edition of NJ Daily.