The Emperor of the Oil Patch
On energy policy, Obama continues to be the emperor who wears no clothes. His fantasies of large-scale green energy projects and millions of electric vehicles on the road just aren't materializing. In this respect, the president is like the do-nothing emperor of the Hans Christian Andersen tale, strutting his stuff with his nose high in the air, proud of his magical garments, but naked as the day he was born.
In Obama's case, the magical garb is all the nonsense about sustainable energy and green jobs he is touting, even as energy is more expensive than it should be and real jobs are scarce. Everyone in America except Obama now admits that the Energy Department's loans to crack-ups like Solyndra were a disaster. Solyndra was failing even before Obama visited its California facility in 2010 and declared the company the future of American energy. Most Americans are now starting to realize that even with massive subsidies and fuel efficiency mandates, plug-in electric vehicles are a niche market at best. Yet the emperor is still parading about his Washington palace, dreaming up new ways to cram green energy down the throats of ordinary Americans.
What's scary is how little Obama actually knows about the actual process of producing energy. One of the country's greatest energy entrepreneurs, Harold Hamm of Continental Resources (a visionary pioneer in the development of the Bakken shale), came away from a White House meeting convinced that Obama lives in a "fantasy world" when it comes to the nation's energy needs. On his website, Hamm states that Obama and his team have done "everything in their power to stop fossil fuel usage." Despite the undeniable success of fracking in the Bakken shale and elsewhere, Hamm asserts, government "energy policies continue to hinder our efforts even today." In short, the emperor doesn't understand America's energy needs and doesn't support the remarkable efforts of private enterprises to meet those needs.
In other words, it's not just that Obama has chosen the wrong path -- it's that he is not even aware of the choices available to him. The man ultimately in charge of oil and gas permitting on federal lands, in charge of EPA policy with regard to drilling, in charge of taxation and regulation that affect the ability of companies to expand their production of oil and gas -- this same man appears to know nothing whatsoever about how energy is actually produced.
But, like the vain emperor in the Andersen story, this same man thinks he knows better than all those who have devoted their lives to exploring and producing and marketing energy. The president's arrogance is shocking. Not one high-ranking member of his administration has had even a day's worth of experience producing carbon fuels -- by far our nation's greatest sources of energy. Obama surrounds himself with such ignorant advisors because he does not want to learn. He wants to continue residing in the politically expedient fantasy that wind and solar can meet the nation's energy needs. Today, wind and solar supply less than 1.6% of America's energy needs, with wind responsible for 1.4% and solar supplying only two tenths of one percent. Despite these facts, the emperor seems to think America can get by on wind and solar.
If Obama had supported "all of the above," as he often promised, the nation's economy would now be expanding strongly, and wages would be growing. But because of the president's refusal to support rational energy policies, the unemployment rate is now rising again, the nation's debt is over $17 trillion, and the economy is stuck in the new normal of everlasting malaise.
But this is just the prelude of what's to come.
What happens when Obama's policies are fully implemented? What happens when the EPA issues new regulations expected to drive existing coal-fired power plants out of business? What results when the EPA succeeds in restricting hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and thereby cuts off our supply of domestic oil and gas? And what is the logical result of all the new taxes and new regulations issued by the Obama administration? Answer to all of the above: a lower standard of living for all.
Over the course of Obama's presidency to date, average earnings for American families have declined. Obama has done a lot of talking about how he is "fighting for working folks" and "saving the middle class." Yet during his presidency, mean average income for the lower quintile of earners has declined to $20,262 (2011 figure) from the $22,349 (2006 figure) it had been toward the end of the Bush presidency. And for those average folks at the 50th percentile, it had declined from $53,768 to $50,054. Adjusted for inflation, the declines are even more dramatic.
Much of that decline has resulted from Obama's disastrous energy policy. His failure to approve the Keystone XL pipeline blocked the creation of 200,000 high-paying jobs and countless spin-off positions. His temporary ban on Gulf Coast drilling and slow-walking of permitting afterward has cost the country tens of thousands of jobs and tens of billions in lost energy production. These failures are nothing compared to what Obama has in store once the EPA implements its ban on coal and regulates fracking to the point that it becomes uneconomical to drill for oil and gas in this country -- and forcing us to return to the days when America imported 70% of its oil.
The emperor, of course, does not give a hoot about any of this. If he cared about ordinary Americans, he would have taken measures to allow job-creation in the private sector by lowering corporate taxes and reducing regulation, especially in the energy sector. Instead, he has raised taxes, proposed other new taxes (including a $44-billion hike on oil and gas producers), and vastly increased regulation.
For this president, ordinary Americans are trifling peasants who deserve to be driven into poverty. For the champions of Big Government, of course, poverty is a good thing. The more poverty, the more perceived need for government assistance. What really frightens this president is the prospect of free enterprise succeeding. Imagine 330 million Americans living prosperous and free, with no need for anything from government. That is the real nightmare for the left, and Obama is doing everything possible to see that it doesn't happen.
Fortunately for the progressives, Obama is succeeding. Americans are getting poorer, American companies are limping along with 4% profit growth, and GDP is expanding at a miserable 2.0% (after accounting for inventory expansion). In a few more years, Obama will have killed off growth altogether, along with health care, banking, and the oil industry. Then he will be the emperor of nothing but Big Government, which is what he wanted all along.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books on American politics and culture, including Heartland of the Imagination (2013).