Water, Earth, Sky

Scott Shenk writes about the environment.

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Gas prices and energy initiatives

The Obama administration wants to get the word out about what it is doing to address rising gas prices and the nation’s energy future.

In phone calls Tuesday to Virginia reporters, Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said there are bright spots in what critics paint as a gloomy scenario.

“Oil and gas production in the U.S. is at its highest level in eight years,” he told me, adding that production has increased each year since the president was elected. Vilsack said the nation is importing less oil today than three years ago, due in part to more biofuel production and other sustainable energy initiatives.

“It’s important for people to understand the context: This is not about oil and gas production, and certainly not about [energy] alternatives—we’re putting more into the marketplace every year.” With gas prices approaching $4 a gallon, and predictions for even higher prices into the summer, “We’re making sure we get a handle on people’s concerns and fears, and also that prices can moderate,” he said.Gas prices hinge on many factors, among them supply and demand, and tensions in the Middle East and other major oil-producing areas.

With the economy showing improvement, “I think it’s important for people to put this all in context. There’s a lot of chatter out there about solutions and there is a game plan here, by which oil and gas production is increasing,” Vilsack said.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack

Critics of administration efforts point to continued restrictions on drilling, and the president’s decision last year to block the Keystone XL pipeline.TransCanada Corp. wants to transport oil extracted from tar sands in Canada to refineries along the Gulf Coast. The company said last week it would begin developing the southern leg of the project, from Oklahoma to Texas, which doesn’t require presidential approval.

In his State of the Union address in January, Obama pledged safe and responsible development of the near 100-year supply of natural gas, incentives to manufacturers to make energy upgrades, and to create clean energy jobs.

USDA has been heavily involved in rural application of renewable energy—wind, solar, geothermal and biofuels—linked to agriculture.

In Virginia, under its Rural Energy for America Program, for example, it helped 53 rural small businesses, farmers and ranches save energy and improve their revenues by installing renewable energy and energy-saving systems.