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President's Energy Speech Gets Mixed Reviews Out West

Photo by Kirk Siegler
President Obama is calling for more oil and gas drilling in the West, but the industry says his policies have conflicted that.

While President Obama was speaking on energy and making a plug for research and development of electric car batteries, Amy Prieto happened to be presenting on that very topic at a conference three time zones away in southern California.


"I mean, I’m a little bit bias, because I work in this area, but I think the president is right on track," Prieto said.  "What’s really critical right now is research and development.

A Colorado State University professor who also runs a small-start up in Fort Collins, Prieto has applied for one of the roughly $2 billion in federal grants for electric car battery research and development the President touted in his speech Wednesday at Georgetown University. 

"If we can have that industry here in the United States of America, that means jobs," Mr. Obama said. "If those batteries are made here, those cars are made here, and we’re putting Americans back to work."

For her part, Prieto is developing a lithium-ion battery that recharges quickly and is lighter in weight than the heavier, pricier models currently on the market.    

"Particularly in Colorado, we have quite an opportunity in the kind of workforce that is present in our state, the kind of skilled labor that I would need to manufacture the battery I’m trying to design, we have a lot of those people in Colorado already," Prieto said.

Prieto applauds Mr. Obama for bringing attention, and more importantly federal grants, to her industry and clean energy and technology generally. 

So does Matt Garrington, but for different reasons. 

As deputy director for the new left-leaning Checks and Balances Project in Colorado, Garrington was listening to the president’s push for more oil and gas drilling and clean energy development closely.

"I think the president’s speech just reaffirms the fact that in the West, we’re clearly open for business, when it comes to oil and gas energy development," Garrington said.

Garrington says the Administration is striking a good balance with its domestic energy policy.  The President has made a push to roll back some oil and gas production tax credits to make clean energy more in line with fossil fuels.

"The public overwhelmingly supports ending welfare handouts to the oil and gas industry," Garrington said.

But many in the industry call that argument unfounded because oil and gas companies are doing the same as any business does. 

"A lot of times we get accused of getting subsidies, but really we’re just allowed to deduct business expenses, and those are sometimes spun as if we were getting subsidies," said Kathleen Sgamma, director of government and public affairs for the Western Energy Alliance, which lobbies for oil and gas producers in the region. 

While the President is pushing for more oil and gas drilling in the West, Sgamma says his administration has also been moving to enact what she says are disincentives, such as increasing drilling fees on public lands and shortening the life of drilling leases.

"It’s one thing to say it, and then it’s another thing to have the Administration putting up policies and roadblocks to actually making that happen," Sgamma said in an interview at her Denver office. 

The President Wednesday did say domestic oil and gas producers were sitting on resources just waiting to be tapped.  According to the Department of Interior’s own study, some 57% of public lands where industry has been given the green light to drill are sitting idle. 

But Sgamma insisted that red tape has still prevented some of those leases from being developed.

Editor's note:  This story was edited from the original version to correct a mistake referenced in the DOI study. 

Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.