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Soaring gas prices have Biden talking up the importance of domestic drilling

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Biden is calling for more oil drilling in the United States and around the world. The effort to isolate Russia, one of the world's biggest oil producers, makes that essential. But the White House insists it is still sticking by a long-term goal of phasing out fossil fuels. NPR's Scott Detrow reports.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Republicans see inflation as a top political weapon ahead of this fall's midterm elections. With the price of gas far past $4 a gallon, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy sees a political opportunity.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: These aren't Putin prices. They're President Biden's prices.

DETROW: Republican attacks have fallen along familiar lines. The President Biden's return to tougher environmental standards and push for a shift away from oil and toward clean energy is to blame. Congressman Steve Scalise is McCarthy's No. 2.

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STEVE SCALISE: The challenge is that President Biden still won't say yes to American energy.

DETROW: In the past, energy crises and rising cost often led to a retreat from aggressive climate goals. There are signs the president is keenly aware of the political risks here. Already, Biden, who made climate change more central to his campaign than anyone else ever elected president, has stood in the White House, essentially bragging about how much oil is being drilled in the U.S.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Even amid the pandemic, companies in the United States pumped more oil during my first year in office than they did during my predecessor's first year. We're approaching record levels of oil and gas production in United States, and we're on track to set a record oil production next year.

DETROW: And administration officials have been reaching out to big oil producers all over the world to try to get more crude onto the markets. A delegation even traveled to Venezuela to talk to an authoritarian government the U.S. doesn't even officially recognize. That's led to, at times, awkward explanations from press secretary Jen Psaki.

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JEN PSAKI: There was a discussion that was had by members of the administration over the course of the last several days. Those discussions are also ongoing.

DETROW: Still, amid all of this...

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BIDEN: It's just not tenable.

DETROW: ...Biden insists he's sticking to his goal of having U.S. carbon emissions from 2005 levels by the end of the decade.

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BIDEN: Loosening environmental regulations or pulling back clean energy investment won't - let me explain - won't - will not lower energy prices for families. But transforming our economy to run on electric vehicles powered by clean energy with tax credits to help American families winterize their homes and use less energy - that will.

DETROW: Many climate activists have been frustrated with Biden lately, largely because the major legislation behind his ambitious climate plan is stalled in the Senate. That's put his long-term emissions targets in doubt. But they're largely heartened by how Biden is framing this in what they see as a key moment. Mary Anne Hitt is a senior director at Climate Imperative.

MARY ANNE HITT: One path leads us to doubling down on fossil fuels, and the other path is to phase out our reliance on them by cleaning up our electricity, advancing renewable energy and electrifying our vehicles.

DETROW: Biden has already steered billions of dollars to the electric vehicle market through the Infrastructure Act. The Biden EPA has toughened mileage standards for new vehicles. Those steps will lower demand for oil, but not in the short term.

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BIDEN: And if we can, if we do what we can, it will mean that no one has to worry about price at the gas pump in the future.

DETROW: That, however, will largely come down to whether Biden can figure out how to change the math in the Senate to get his clean energy spending bill unstuck and then somehow get it passed before the midterms, when Democrats could lose their majority.

Scott Detrow, NPR News, The White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF DLJ, ODYSSEE, FLORENT GARCIA'S "SUSPENDED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.