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Obama campaign: Oil companies, speculators to blame for rising gas prices

The North Carolina Obama campaign said Tuesday that the administration had worked to make energy more available, and blamed rising prices on oil companies and speculators.

Democratic Congressman Brad Miller, speaking as a surrogate for the campaign, said there is more domestic oil production than at any time in the past eight years and more natural gas production than the nation has ever had.

“North Carolina voters know where the responsibility really lies,” Miller said in a teleconference. “They place the blame with the oil companies. They place the blame with speculators and they know perfectly well there has been an extraordinary effort in the Obama administration to increase energy production.''

House passes bill in support of off-shore drilling, gas fracking

In a largely party-line vote, the state House approved a Republican-backed bill that rewrites state energy policy to promote and approve of the drilling of natural gas on land and off the coast.

Supporters of Senate Bill 709 said drilling would create revenue for the cash-strapped state government and jobs for North Carolinians by creating a regulatory atmosphere that is more "pro business."

Republican lawmakers brushed aside concerns raised by Democrats about the potential for an off-shore spill to negatively impact coastal tourism and the possible contamination of drinking wells through the use of a controversial gas drilling technique that relies on the hydraulic fracturing underground rock, known as fracking.

"It's time to get crackin' on frackin'," said an enthusiastic Rep. John Blust, a Greensboro Republican. "If we're worrying about tourism, do you think $4 a gallon gas is going to affect tourism. We need more fossil fuels in this country."

Democrats objected to the often-repeated GOP talking point that drilling for natural gas will reduce gasoline prices and reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil. There are not believed to be sizable deposits of oil off the North Carolina coast.

After a study was quoted as saying that increased domestic oil production would have a negligible impact on gasoline prices, Blust countered that such economic analyses were produced by "whackos in an ivory tower."

An attempt by Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat, to amend the bill to add renewable energy sources such as wind power and wave power to the list of options for creating new energy was defeated.

Harrison pointed out that tourism generates many more jobs and revenue in the state than even the most rosy of forecast for drilling.

"We have a tourism economy that depends on a clean coast," Harrison said.

Republican supporters countered that the bill designates the first $500 million the state earns through off-shore drilling royalties to a special fund to clean up the environmental damage from any accident or spill.

The bill, a version of which has already passed the Senate, was approved 67-44.

Burr portrayed as oil-covered bird in new ad

Republican Sen. Richard Burr is the target of a new TV ad campaign that ties him to the oil industry and the Gulf of Mexico spill.

A coalition of four environmental, labor and veterans groups began airing an ad today showing an oil-covered man – identified as Burr – being pulled out of the ocean like a sea bird. The man in the suit is shown being cleaned in a rescue operation, reports Rob Christensen.

“We pulled one out of the water this morning completely covered in oil,” says a man. “The name is Senator Richard Burr.”

The narrator says: “Senator Burr's record is a little oily. Big oil has showered him with hundreds of thousands in campaign cash.”

The ad campaign is paid for by the League of Conservation Voters, Action Fund, the Sierra Club and the Service Employees International Union.

The so-called issues ad is designed to build support for the energy and climate bill before the Senate. The  $2 million, two-week ad campaign is running in four states, but “a very significant portion” of that amount is being spent in North Carolina, according to Kate Geller, a spokeswoman for the Conservation Council.

The Burr campaign noted that Burr had just introduced legislation that would encourage the country to become less oil dependent through tax policies to encourage nuclear power, electric vehicles and natural gas vehicles.

“If the groups running this ad would stop long enough to realize that Senator Burr just introduced an energy bill that has the greatest offset on emissions, they might not have wasted so much money,” said Samantha Smith, Burr's campaign spokeswoman.

“Senator Burr is focused on finding real solutions to the disaster in the Gulf and a workable energy policy for our country that encourages economic growth and keeps Americans safe,” Smith said.


Randall attempts to backtrack while standing firm

William "Bill" Randall is trying to distance himself from his earlier suggestion that the federal government and BP colluded to intentionally cause the Gulf spill oil, even as he simultaneously stands by what he said.

The Republican congressional candidate called a media conference Thursday after video of his earlier statements had gone viral on the internet, reposted by media outlets and left-leaning bloggers across the country.

His opponent in the June 22 GOP primary runoff, Bernie Reeves, has also sought to make political hay from Randall's conspiracy theory about the explosion of the Deep Water Horizon rig, which resulted in 11 deaths and the worst environmental calamity in U.S. history.

Standing at a lectern outside the doors of a church, Randall, who has aligned himself with the Tea Party movement, began by reading a prepared statement.

"I would like to set the record straight on my position with respect to this disaster," Randall said, reading from the text. "First and foremost, I have not and still do not accuse any person or entity, private or government, of wrongdoing. Speculation is one thing. Accusations are entirely different."

So, Dome asked, does he want to back away from his earlier statement suggesting the Obama Administration and BP spilled oil on purpose?

"I don't want to back away from any call for a thorough investigation into this situation," Randall replied. "I think that we have a responsibility to do that, and anything short of that is not serving the American people."

So does Randall believe the federal government intentionally spilled the oil?

"Sir, I don't think you can take anything from my statement that indicates that," Randall said.

On Tuesday, Randall was asked if he supported President Obama's six-month moratorium on new deep water drilling for a safety review in wake of the disaster.

"Personally, and this is purely speculative on my part and not based on any fact, but personally I feel there is a possibility that there was some sort of collusion," Randall said. "I don't know how or why, but in that situation, if you have someone from a company proposing to violate the safety process and the government signing off on it, excuse me, maybe they wanted it to leak. But then it got beyond what was anticipated."

Asked Thursday if he had misspoken or if he felt his earlier statement had been misconstrued, Randall said: "My statements are a matter of record. If you want to review them and derive whatever conclusion you want to derive, you are free to do that."

Randall then began reading again verbatim from his prepared remarks.

In video, Randall says Feds and BP spilled oil on purpose

Republican Congressional candidate William "Bill" Randall is suggesting that the Obama Administration and BP conspired to intentionally spill oil in the Gulf, resulting in 11 deaths and the worst environmental disaster in the nation's history.

Randall, who has aligned himself with the Tea Party movement, readily admits that he has no evidence that what he says is true. But that is not stopping him from making the claim as he campaigns for in the June 22 GOP runoff to face incumbent Democratic Rep. Brad Miller on the November ballot.

"Now, I'm not necessarily a conspiracy person, but I don't think enough investigation has been done on this," Randall said at a media conference on Tuesday. "Someone needs to be digging into that situation. Personally, and this is purely speculative on my part and not based on any fact, but personally I feel there is a possibility that there was some sort of collusion. I don't know how or why, but in that situation, if you have someone from a company proposing to violate the safety process and the government signing off on it, excuse me, maybe they wanted it to leak.

"But then it got beyond what was anticipated, and we had an explosion and loss of life. And, oh man, now we have panic. Is there a cover up going on? I'm not saying there necessarily is. But I think there's enough facts on the table for people that (they) really need to do some investigative research and find out what went on with that and get a subpoena of records and everything else."

Randall made the statements after a reporter asked him if he supported President Obama's six-month moratorium on new deep water drilling for a safety review in wake of the disaster.

Pressed on what possible motivation the federal government and BP would have to purposely spill oil, Randall said he had no idea but reiterated that the issue needed to be the subject of investigation.

Both Randall and his GOP primary opponent, Bernie Reeves, have been outspoken supporters of oil and gas exploration off the North Carolina coast, where drilling has long been banned.

Randall, a U.S. Navy retiree who moved to North Carolina 19 months ago, led in the results of a four-way primary last month, edging out second-place finisher Reeves by just 135 votes.

Asked for comment, Reeves responded through a campaign spokesman: “Does Bill Randall also think we didn’t land on the moon?”

Video courtesy of News 14 Carolina:

Group slams Burr over oil ties

A left-leaning advocacy group has attacked U.S. Sen. Richard Burr over what it says are his ties to oil interests.

Americans United for Change has launched a series of ads attacking various lawmakers who oppose clean energy legislation. The group is spending $100,000 to run the ad attacking Burr in Wilmington and Greenville next week.

The ad opens with footage of the gushing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

"The oil isn’t just polluting the Gulf — It’s polluting our politics," the announcer says before adding that Burr has received nearly $500,000 in contributions from oil interests.

A campaign spokeswoman for Burr dismissed the ad as a "distraction." She noted that Democrats have been big recipients of oil contributions.

"An interesting distraction and diversion, but at odds with who is in charge in Washington," said Samantha Smith. "They want the President and other Senate leaders to be the beneficiaries of oil industry contributions while trying to blame Republicans, or otherwise blame someone else. We are facing a disaster like one never before seen, and we need to be focused on solutions."

UPDATE: The bill supported by Americans United for Change includes provisions that would allow revenue sharing for offshore drilling in areas that were previously closed to oil and gas. The bill does call for a moratorium on new drilling until the causes of the Gulf spill are determined and the issues of how to handle liability for such accidents are resolved.

No drilling, no jobs, no poles

CHILLIN' ON DRILLIN': Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate differ with President Barack Obama on drilling for oil and gas off the North Carolina coast. (N&O)

WORKIN' IT: Gov. Bev Perdue is scheduled to speak to a gathering on getting North Carolinians, especially minority groups, back to work. (AP)

POLES APART: Protesters at the state capitol can wave American flags, but not the poles. (N&O)

Obama taps Duke prof on energy

A Duke University professor has been tapped by the White House to lead the Energy Information Administration, the agency that tracks energy statistics in Washington.

President Barack Obama today nominated Richard G. Newell, an expert in environmental economics, for the job as administrator of the agency, Barb Barrett reports.

On the surface it might seem as though Newell would be taking on a pretty wonky position. The agency keeps track of data and makes forecasts on oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear energy and renewable energies.

But the Energy Information Administration's work carries significant weight in energy policy discussions. Its research likely will have some impact, for example, in whether North Carolina's coastal waters could sprout either oil wells or wind turbines.

During last year’s debate on offshore drilling and high gas prices, experts routinely cited an EIA report that said new drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf would have little impact on oil prices before 2030.

Newell is the Gendell Associate Professor of Energy and Environmental Economics at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment. His research has focused on energy and the environment, including the economics of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Newell’s nomination would have to be approved by a Senate vote.

Poll: Two-thirds back drilling

A poll shows continuing support for offshore drilling.

The survey by the conservative Civitas Institute think tank showed that 72 percent of voters support drilling at least somewhere off the coast of North Carolina.

The poll showed 41 percent support drilling as long as it is not visible from the shore, 31 percent support drilling anywhere off the coast and 22 percent did not support drilling. Six percent had no opinion.

"It appears voters overwhelmingly support drilling off the coast, whether it is a plurality that would allow it within sight of land or huge majorities allowing it somewhere off the coast," said executive director Francis De Luca.

The legislature has appointed a task force to study whether the state should allow offshore drilling. 

The live phone survey of 600 likely general election voters was conducted April 21-23 by McLaughlin and Associates of Alexandria, Va. It has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

Hagan not opposed to drilling

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan said she is not opposed to drilling for oil or natural gas off the North Carolina coast if that is what the state decides to do.

"If the state determines that we need to be drilling," Hagan said, "I would support that."

She said North Carolina should get a healthy share of any revenues — perhaps 35 percent, Rob Christensen reports.

"I'm not opposed to it," Hagan said in an interview.

But she said the environmental impact, the cost of retrieving the oil and gas, and what kind of reserves are off the coast are all factors that would have to be weighed.

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