Obama Tries to Halt Attacks on Energy Policy

President is expected to reiterate his 'all of the above' approach to energy in Florida visit.

President Obama will try to head off Republican criticism over rising gasoline prices Feb. 23, setting out how the United States should address its voracious appetite for energy.

Visiting the hard-hit election battleground of Florida, Obama will address concerns about rising gasoline prices, which have jumped 16 percent in a year in the Sunshine State, providing campaign fodder for his Republican foes.

The president is expected to reiterate his "all of the above" approach to energy, which advocates more domestic drilling, better fuel standards, lower consumption and developing non-fossil fuels.

The call comes as Republicans seize on rising gasoline prices as evidence that Obama's energy polices have failed, spelling political trouble for the White House.

The American Automobile Association has predicted average prices across the country could reach $4.25 a gallon by May, up from $3.61 today.

That is well beyond the $4 a gallon level most Americans see as acceptable, leaving Obama politically vulnerable and with few tools to influence market prices as the country races toward November elections.

Economists have warned that rising energy prices -- largely due to geopolitical tensions and disruptions to supplies in Iran, Africa and the Arab world -- could hold back the fragile US economic recovery.

"Higher energy prices could slow the (stock) market advance and may portend some loss of economic momentum," said Barry Knapp, an analyst with Barclays Capital.

Obama could try to slow rising prices by putting petroleum from the national strategic reserve on the market, but that is a risky proposition.

Since being created in the 1970s, the reserve has been used only a handful of times, most recently in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and by Obama last year as the war in Libya raged.

Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have already sought to pin the blame for higher oil prices on the Democratic incumbent.

They point to Obama's opposition to offshore drilling and a pipeline from Canada, as well as his support for ending oil company tax breaks, as contributing to higher gas prices.

Newt Gingrich has promised to bring gasoline down to $2.50 a gallon.

Republicans also point to the bankruptcy of solar panel firm Solyndra after it received $535 million in government loan guarantees as evidence that Obama has failed.

The White House has been at pains to empathize with struggling consumers.

"(The president) fully appreciates the impact of higher gas prices on average Americans trying to make ends meet," Obama spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Feb. 22.

"Every year since he's been President, we've increased our oil and gas production. Every year since he's been president, we've decreased our reliance on foreign oil imports."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012

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