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Energy’s Chu Defends U.S. Efforts to Curb Gasoline Prices

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu rebutted Republican claims that President Barack Obama’s administration isn’t doing enough to reduce gasoline prices.

“We very much want to not only slow the price, but reverse” the rising cost of gasoline, Chu said today at a House hearing in Washington on the Energy Department’s budget. “We definitely feel the pain that every American and every business feels when the price of gas goes up.”

The average cost of gasoline at the pump, which is tied to oil prices, rose to $3.78 a gallon in the week ended Feb. 27, double the $1.89 when Obama took office in January 2009, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. International events, including political turmoil in the Middle East, have threatened to reduce oil supplies while demand from developing countries including China has increased, placing upward pressure on prices.

“As the price of gas goes up, money that can be invested in our already fragile economy is taken out of consumers’ pockets,” Representative James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, said to Chu at today’s hearing.

The Energy Department is investing in technologies to improve automobile gas mileage, expand battery life and develop biofuels to curb U.S. oil imports, Chu said.

‘A Minus’

“We want to diversify our energy supplies,” including increasing production of oil and natural gas, he said. Chu said he would give himself a grade of “A minus” for his efforts as Energy Secretary, allowing “room for improvement.”

Republicans including presidential candidate Newt Gingrich have attacked Chu for not focusing on curbing the rise in gasoline prices after he said the administration’s “overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil” during testimony to a House Appropriations subcommittee on Feb. 28.

“Just this week, Obama’s own Energy secretary, Steven Chu, admitted what we all know is true -- that the Obama Energy Department really isn’t trying to lower gasoline prices,” Gingrich, a former U.S. House speaker, said today in a statement. “President Obama must announce today” during an energy-policy speech in Nashua, New Hampshire, “that he is firing Secretary Chu and replacing him with a pro-American-energy appointment,” Gingrich said.

The administration is “very, very concerned about the rising gasoline prices and will do everything it can to help reduce those prices,” Chu told reporters after the hearing today. “As the president has said time and time again, there are no single magic bullets.”

Strategic Reserve

The U.S. is considering the option of tapping its Strategic Petroleum Reserve as a short-term way to curb gasoline price increases, Chu and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Feb. 28 in separate Washington appearances.

House Speaker John Boehner told reporters that Obama’s comments yesterday during a meeting with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders suggests he doesn’t think tapping the reserve would lower gasoline prices.

“It did not appear to me the president believed that using” the oil reserve “would have any meaningful effect on gas prices,” Boehner said today at his weekly press conference.

“Just releasing” the reserve oil “without coordinating with our allies around the world, all that does is shift where the supply’s coming from,” the Ohio Republican said.

Boehner said Chu has “made it pretty clear that his goal is to have higher energy prices.” Unlike his energy secretary, Obama made it clear in the meeting that “he would prefer to see lower gas prices, at least through Election Day.”

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