An Inconvenient Statement, Retracted

Source: John M. Broder • New York Times  • Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Energy Secretary Steven Chu on Tuesday walked away from his oft-quoted pre-Cabinet statement that the United States should deliberately raise gasoline prices to discourage consumption.

In a 2008 interview with The Wall Street Journal before he was appointed President Obama’s energy secretary, Dr. Chu, then the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said, “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels of Europe.”

Dr. Chu, a winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, has spent much of his career seeking alternative forms of energy to try to mitigate the global warming impacts of the burning of fossil fuels.

His views on gasoline prices, while endorsed by many scientists and environmentalists, are politically off-message today, when gasoline prices are spiking and Mr. Obama is seeking to avoid political blame for them. The president has repeatedly said that he has no “silver bullet” to bring gas prices down but adds that he is doing everything he can to boost domestic oil supplies, including opening large areas of public lands and waters to drilling.

Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has called on Mr. Obama to dismiss Dr. Chu because of his stated view on gasoline prices.

So in a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday, Dr. Chu walked away from his earlier comment. “I no longer share that view,” he said. “Of course we don’t want the price of gasoline to go up. We want it to go down.”

He said he has worked since joining the administration to reduce fuel prices and to encourage alternative energy sources. Although he often rides a bicycle to work, Dr. Chu said, “we do acknowledge and feel the pain.”

Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said that the president had not instructed his energy secretary to disavow his comments.

“And I think this is an excellent opportunity to make the point that folks who cover this issue, who try to suggest that the statement of someone who wasn’t even in government at the time is somehow a more significant indicator of the president’s policy than the president’s policy, are engaging in politics on this issue,” he said.

“I know that it’s part of the fun for folks to find these quotes and suggest that they have some deeper meaning, and maybe that would be the case on day one of a presidency,” Mr. Carney continued.

“But we’re in the fourth year of this presidency,” he said. “And this president has a very clear record of aggressively pursuing domestic oil and gas production in a safe and responsible way on public lands as well as private — ensuring that it continues on private lands and waters — and in pursuing aggressively alternative energy industries so that we can compete globally in the future in those industries.”