Chu: Uh, never mind on that European gas prices goal

Isn’t it amazing what a couple of bad polls can produce?  In 2008, then-incoming-Energy Secretary Steven Chu told the Wall Street Journal that American energy policy should be calibrated to drive the cost of gasoline to the same level as Europe in order to produce more demand for alternative energy production:

Mr. Obama plans soon to introduce his energy and environment team, which will include Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu as energy secretary and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner as White House energy adviser. …

In a sign of one major internal difference, Mr. Chu has called for gradually ramping up gasoline taxes over 15 years to coax consumers into buying more-efficient cars and living in neighborhoods closer to work.

“Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe,” Mr. Chu, who directs the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal in September.

Almost four years later, with Barack Obama beginning to see his polling slip on rapidly-rising gas prices and the compounded pain it causes working- and middle-class families, Chu finally walked back that statement in testimony to Congress today:

Energy Secretary Steven Chu on Tuesday retracted his now-infamous quote from 2008: “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.”

“I no longer share that view,” Chu said in response to questioning from Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, at aSenate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on another topic related to DOE’s loan-guarantee program.

Not that he sounded convincing:

Chu seemed to equivocate, pause, and stumble over his words when responding to Lee’s question about high gas prices. Other comments Chu made at another hearing late last month put him in hot water on gas prices. Politico reported on Feb. 28 that Chu told a House committee he was not working to lower gasoline prices but to wean the United States off oil. That story has since been corrected to clarify that DOE is working to both lower gas prices and wean the country off oil. But that was only after the story was picked up by Republicans and used against the administration.

The Hill picks up on another part of his testimony that raises questions about his sincerity:

But Chu declined to say whether he regretted making the 2008 comments.

“Let me not comment on that,” he said.

National Journal seems to be going out of its way to give Chu some cover.  Here’s the actual answer and response from last month:

Chu specifically cited a reported breakthrough announced Monday by Envia Systems, which received funding from DOE’s ARPA-E, that could help slash the price of electric vehicle batteries.

He also touted natural gas as “great” and said DOE is researching how to reduce the cost of compressed natural gas tanks for vehicles.

High gasoline prices will make research into such alternatives more urgent, Chu said.

“But is the overall goal to get our price” of gasoline down, asked Nunnelee.

“No, the overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil, to build and strengthen our economy,” Chu replied. “We think that if you consider all these energy policies, including energy efficiency, we think that we can go a long way to becoming less dependent on oil and [diversifying] our supply and we’ll help the American economy and the American consumers.”

Clearly, the “overall goal” for this administration is not to lower gas prices.  It’s to game the system to make alternatives compete better against fossil fuels.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that the administration wants a rapid rise in gas prices, but it certainly doesn’t mean that they want to see gas prices fall substantially, either — at least not until gas prices start harming Obama’s re-election chances.  The alternative energy sources this administration champions can’t compete against mature energy sources, even with the billions of dollars in subsidies that Obama has poured into the industry.  The outcome has been a complete bust — literally, in the cases of Solyndra, Beacon, and Ener1, among others.

From NJ’s report, it sounded as if Chu had considerable difficulty serving up this reversal.  The rest of us will find it difficult to swallow, too.

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David Strom 7:01 PM on June 06, 2023