Friday, October 31st, 2014

Ad Watch: American Energy Alliance blames Obama for gas prices

The oil industry group American Energy Alliance released this ad in Virginia, Florida and other states.

There are a handful of national political advertisements running in Virginia that make a variety of factual claims. In the coming weeks, we’ll be reviewing the ads and either checking the facts ourselves or relying on factchecks already done by members of the PolitiFact network.

The first TV ad we’ll put under the microscope is one from The American Energy Alliance, a conservative group linked to the energy industry that takes aim at President Barack Obama and rising gas prices.

PolitiFact has reviewed three of the claims in the commercial -- either in direct response to the ad or because other people have made similar or identical charges against Obama in the past. Here is a summary of the items checked. To read the complete factchecks, go to PolitiFactVirginia.com.

Ad claim: "Since Obama became president, gas prices have nearly doubled."

The average national price for a gallon of gas was about $1.84 during the week Obama was inaugurated in January 2009, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Most recently, it was about  $3.94 per gallon for the week that ended April 9, 2012.  So the price of gas has more than doubled since Obama took office, increasing by 114 percent.

But PolitiFact has said repeatedly that Obama is not to blame. Gas prices are largely affected by supply-and-demand pressures over which a president has little control.

We addressed this subject in February 2012 when we looked at a claim by U.S. Senate candidate George Allen, a Republican, that the average cost of filling a gas tank had increased by $30 under Obama. We rated that claim Mostly True, saying Allen had his number right but wrongly suggested the president shoulders the blame.

Ad claim: "Obama opposed exploring for energy in Alaska."

PolitiFact’s national team rated this claim Half True on April 2, calling it "a narrow slice of reality."

It’s true that the president opposes opening for oil exploration the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,
an area about the size of South Carolina that’s managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and is a habitat for birds, caribou, polar bears and gray wolves. But the administration has approved plans that allow for expanded drilling in other parts of Alaska, including clearing a process that could let Shell sink new rigs in two Alaskan offshore areas as soon this summer.

Ad claim: "Obama’s energy secretary said we need to boost gas prices to `the levels in Europe.’ That’s $9 a gallon."

Steven Chu did make that statement, but it was before he became energy secretary. Chu was a Nobel-prize winning physicist and director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California when he was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal in September 2008.

At the time, Chu had no ties to Obama. His comments did not appear in the newspaper until Dec. 12, 2008 -- the day after president-elect Obama nominated Chu to become energy secretary. In the Journal story, Chu called for gradually increasing gasoline prices over 15 years to coax consumers to buy more fuel-efficient cars and live closer to work. "Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe," he said.

Chu backed off this statement during a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on March 13, 2012. "When I became secretary of energy, I represented the U.S. government," he said.  "Of course, we don’t want the price of gasoline to go up, we want it to go down."

PolitiFact national reviewed an almost identical claim made in January by Newt Gingrich and rated the statement Mostly True because Gingrich overstated the cost of gas in Europe. AEA’s claim that gas costs $9 a gallon in Europe is also slightly overstated -- that’s the case in only a few nations. The gas prices range from $6.48 a gallon in Romania to $9.28 a gallon in Italy, according to April 2 data released by the European Union.