November 18, 2010
The Left and Energy Policy
There are several factors that contribute to a nation's future prosperity. One of the most important is an efficient and dependable supply of energy. A modern economy cannot function without adequate energy sources to power its electrical grid, supply its industries, heat its offices and homes, and fuel its transportation needs.
These facts are self-apparent, even to the left, so why is the left attempting to hamstring every promising new source of energy available to America? I can think of only one reason: because the left, as its main objective, wishes to bring America to its knees. From the left's point of view, America is an imperialist nation that for too long has had its way in the world. Thus, for the left, the only moral position is to undermine American power and wealth. In the environmental movement as it exists today, the left has found the perfect vehicle for its assault on American power.
As servants of the left, President Obama and the Democrat Congress have put our nation's energy supply at risk. Whether it is oil and gas exploration, coal mining, or nuclear energy, the left has created legislative and regulatory obstacles to new production. Meanwhile, tens of billions of dollars in grants and subsidies are showered on unproductive alternative energy projects.
To no one's surprise, the commission appointed by the president to investigate the Gulf oil spill has come back with a finding of "systematic" safety problems. Comprising a handful of liberal academics and environmental activists, the Gulf drilling commission has uncovered just what it wished to uncover: a pretext to restrict energy exploration not just within the Gulf, but everywhere in America. Were it not for the election of a GOP majority in the House, it is likely that highly restrictive legislation would have followed the commission's findings.
As it is, the administration is using the permitting process under the direction of Michael Bromwich, the former Justice Department lawyer named to head the Minerals Management Service, to curtail new drilling. The ruinously slow pace of permit approvals is creating widespread unemployment as it delays drilling and causes drilling rigs to relocate from the Gulf to as far away as Africa and South America. With only six new wells approved at last count, it is as if Obama had never lifted the offshore ban.
It is not just oil, natural gas, and coal development that the left wishes to forestall. Remarkably, at a moment when nearly every analyst agrees that nuclear energy needs to contribute more to the national energy mix, there are practically no new nuclear power projects underway. The U.S. currently lags behind India, Taiwan, and Bulgaria (yes, Bulgaria!) in new projects. China currently has eighteen times the nuclear capacity under development as does the U.S. Again, the strategy of the environmental left is to litigate, regulate, and delay to the point where investors simply give up.
What the left really seeks is not more alternative energy, but less energy, less development, and less influence for America. The U.S. has the capacity to be energy-self-sufficient, and with self-sufficiency would come economic and political renewal. But it is just that sort of economic nationalism that the left most strongly opposes.
Our nation has the capacity to become an exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG), but, predictably, the Obama administration has dragged its feet on licensing. A project underway would ship LNG from a terminal at Sabine Pass, Louisiana, to China, thus creating profits for American companies, jobs for American workers, and tax revenues for states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma. The only problem is that the project is still awaiting a permit from the Obama administration to export the gas.
Why is the government throwing money at switchgrass and miscanthus biofuel programs instead of supporting natural gas -- a fuel source that can actually create hundreds of thousands of jobs and go a long way toward balancing the nation's trade deficit? Switchgrass and miscanthus have not yet been shown to be viable on a commercial scale, particularly in the absence of subsidies or mandates. The same goes for the government's bright idea of turning chicken fat into diesel fuel (which currently receives tax credits of $1 a gallon) or, for that matter, for corn ethanol, with its 45-cent-per-gallon subsidy. Government cannot continue forever subsidizing alternative energy sources that are inherently uncompetitive. To do so will weaken the competitiveness of our entire economy.
Natural gas, clearly, is one energy resource that America possesses in abundance and that is reliable and efficient. At recent prices, natural gas is among the cheapest forms of fuel, capable of producing one megawatt-hour of electricity for less than $100 -- half the price of solar. Unfortunately, the administration's main interest in natural gas to date has been efforts to regulate and tax the industry. The EPA has lost no time in investigating the new drilling procedure known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." The agency has demanded tens of thousands of pages of documents from Halliburton and other drillers. It has searched far and wide (so far without success) for evidence of groundwater contamination resulting from fracking. And now, in an apparent last-ditch effort to restrict America's most promising new source of energy, Obama's EPA has opened an investigation into whether hydraulic fracturing may consume too much water.
The water-usage ploy is a familiar EPA tactic. It has been used repeatedly to restrict industry and development which, so it judges, might harm obscure species such as the snail darter. But now the EPA advances a far more radical position: namely, that it, a federal agency under the direction of a single unelected administrator, has the right to decide on a national scale how all natural resources are to be developed.
The agency's presumption is astounding. Having already decided, regardless of the science, that it has the right to regulate CO2, the EPA believes that it now has the authority to shut down fracking in one or all regions of the country on the pretext of unwarranted water usage -- with "unwarranted" defined as the agency deems fit. Given the continuing restrictions on offshore drilling, the EPA's ban on mountaintop mining, and environmental obstacles placed in the way of nuclear plants, including the administration's backing away from the Yucca Mountain waste storage area, what else is left in the way of energy resources?
Even if the left's actions are reversed following 2012 with the election of a Republican president and Senate, America will be years behind its global competition for new energy. Once China, India, and Brazil have secured rights to the world's energy resources, these resources will be off-limits to American companies. It is as if Obama were sitting in the White House thinking night and day about how to destroy America's energy industry while forcing Americans everywhere to pay more for fuel. That may seem unlikely to some readers, but for a president whose closest supporters believe that gas prices of $10 a gallon would not be a bad thing, it sounds about right to me.
Jeffrey Folks is author of many books and articles on American culture and politics.