Last month, on the same day that Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney stood beside an oil rig in Fort Lupton, Colo., criticizing the Obama administration's energy policies, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar met with energy executives in Texas to discuss the dunes sagebrush lizard, a species endangered by oil and gas production. The contrast between the two scenes was striking. While Romney was on display as a champion of traditional fuel sources, one of the president's top aides on energy was caught in the open trying to balance increased production with environmental protection.
Romney was bashing Obama in a key battleground state, one that Salazar served for six years as attorney general and four as a U.S. senator, and then helped Obama carry by 9 percentage points over GOP presidential nominee John McCain in the 2008 election. Salazar, meanwhile, was hundreds of miles away in a state that Obama won't win in November — talking with drillers still angry with the administration for imposing a six-month moratorium on deepwater production after the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The disparate scenes exemplify the challenge that Obama and his team face in getting out the administration's energy message. They're caught in a trap of their own making, handing Romney an opportunity he seems bent on seizing. While the Republican standard-bearer can unrepentantly promote fossil fuels — with ample help from the GOP-controlled House, Obama's call for an "all of the above" strategy means that he's advocating wind power alongside increasing oil production in the Gulf. Unfortunately for the president, many Americans view him as more of believer in the former than the latter.