Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a possible 2012 Republican presidential candidate, accused President Obama March 2 of intentionally driving up gas prices in an effort to get Americans to buy more hybrids and other energy-efficient vehicles.
Barbour specifically targeted comments made by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, in 2008. Chu claimed that higher energy costs could force an investment in alternative fuels and cleaner energy sources. Barbour said that the Obama administration is using that theory to allow gas prices to rise.
“This administration’s policies have been designed to drive up the cost of energy in the name of reducing pollution, in the name of making very expensive alternative fuels more economically competitive,” Barbour said during a U.S. Chamber of Commerce breakfast across the street from the White House.
His comments come as the cost of oil has jumped amid unrest in Africa and the Middle East. Crude oil prices are soaring, peaking at $104 on the spot market, where the most expensive oil is traded. Gas prices have gone up 28 cents in the last 10 days to an average of $3.47 a gallon for regular unleaded gas. In a weekly report, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said the price of retail gas rose 19 cents last week, the second largest jump since it began keeping data in 1990.
Barbour has been an advocate for energy companies in the past and has defended their interests since he was chairman of the Republican National Committee in the 1990s.
Following the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year, Barbour repeatedly downplayed the disaster’s effect on the environment. In May, Barbour compared the oil spill to the sheen often found around motorboats.
“We don’t wash our face in it, but it doesn’t stop us from jumping off the boat to ski,” Barbour told the Associated Press.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney refuted Barbour’s claims, saying the Obama administration is aware of the gas prices and Barbour’s comments are political posturing.
“This President, this administration, is keenly aware of the impact of high gasoline prices on average Americans, especially in a still recovering economy,” Carney said at a Mar. 2 press briefing. “And we are monitoring gas prices, and we are also, as you have seen over the past two-plus years, very focused on the need precisely to develop other energy sources so that we are not as dependent on foreign oil as we have been in the past.
“So beyond that, I would just say that those comments were clearly made in the context of 2012 presidential politics, so you have to take them, I think, understanding that,” he continued.