Export Natural Gas to Create Jobs

Does President Obama care more about jobs for Americans or about his own re-election chances?  A decision last week on natural gas exports provides the answer.

On Monday, the White House announced that it would postpone a decision until after the election on whether to allow natural gas exports to non-Free Trade Agreement countries.  While this is just one of a thousand decisions Obama has postponed for political reasons, it is an important one.  It puts hundreds of thousands of good jobs at risk.

For natural gas to be exported to countries in Europe and Asia, it must be liquefied at plants such as Cheniere Energy's plant at Sabine Pass, Texas.  The Sabine Pass liquification project, one of many under development or consideration, would create 50,000 jobs in the natural gas supply chain, in addition to jobs constructing and operating the plant itself.  Overall, a dozen such plants could create as many as 750,000 new jobs, and each of those jobs would spawn others as wages were spent on homes, cars, food, and other purchases.  But the president refuses to approve liquefied natural gas exports to non-FTA nations.  Is there some reason, other than politics, why the exportation of natural gas is acceptable only to nations with which the U.S. has free-trade agreements?

The only reason, it turns out, why the president is blocking LNG exports is his quaking fear of the environmental lobby.

When Obama met with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of Japan on April 30, Noda brought up the issue of gas exports.  In the wake of the Fukushima accident, Japan has shut down all but one of its nuclear reactors, and it desperately needs to obtain reliable long-term alternatives to nuclear energy.  Importing liquefied natural gas from the U.S. is an obvious solution, and one that benefits both Japan and the U.S.  But instead of reaching an agreement, Obama and Noda merely "acknowledged the significance of proceeding with discussions," which is diplomatese for "no deal" at this time.  According to reports, administration officials told the Japanese that they could not reach an agreement because of "political sensitivities."  So the reason millions of Americans are without jobs is the president's "political sensitivities."

Apparently, the president thinks his job is more important than those of the 25 million Americans who are now unemployed or underemployed, or who have given up looking for work.  While Obama flies off to Hawaii for beach vacations at public expense, these workers literally do not know where their next meal is coming from.  Millions have already lost their homes, millions are in default or foreclosure, and, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, an additional shadow inventory of 3.6 million distressed homes now exists.  Forty-five million Americans are now subsisting on food stamps.  But when the president has the chance to put 750,000 of them to work almost immediately by signing a single piece of paper, he puts his own self-interest first.

That was the message of Obama's veto of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have created an estimated 200,000 jobs.  It is the message of Obama's ban on Gulf drilling, and his opposition to exploration of the continental shelf and of arctic Alaska.  It is the message of his shutdown of mountaintop mining in Appalachia, and of his blocking of the giant Resolution Copper mine near Superior, Arizona.  The Resolution Copper project would employ 3,700 workers directly, would supply a quarter of U.S. copper demand for decades to come, and would pump $60 billion into the U.S. economy over the course of the project.  Yet the land swap that would allow development to proceed has been blocked by Democrats in the Senate, and Obama's interior secretary, Ken Salazar, opposes the House measure that would advance the mine.

These and a thousand other decisions have stolen millions of high-paying jobs from American workers -- jobs that would have generated more jobs outside the energy sector as the economy gained steam.

Obama has been dragging his feet on gas export licenses for three and a half years already, and now he refuses even to consider making a decision for another six months.  Meanwhile, unemployment numbers are getting worse.  The May employment numbers were appalling, with only 69,000 jobs created and the broader unemployment rate (U-6) rising to 14.8%.  Moreover, April's numbers were revised downward from 115,000 to 77,000.  When BLS publishes its revised numbers for May, things may look even worse.  And there is no indication that June numbers will look any better, given continued declines in construction and housing.

In human terms, these numbers mean that 25 million Americans continue to sit at home, if they have a home to sit in, waiting and worrying, hoping against hope that a job turn up.  While these millions are going hungry, Obama is doing everything possible to see that they don't get a good job.  He is blocking millions of jobs that could be created with strokes of his pen.

Exporting natural gas to countries like Japan, the world's largest gas importer, would create jobs throughout the economy.  It would create jobs for those exploring and drilling for oil and gas, for those manufacturers supplying drilling equipment, for pipeline operators, LNG plant workers, truck drivers, and shippers.  It would spur growth in housing, increase restaurant sales, and boost sales of cars and trucks.  It would produce lucrative royalties for landowners and local governments, it would fund schools and hospitals, and it would help bring down the national debt and diminish our trade deficit.  But because it offends the environmental lobby that donates to his campaign, Obama has blocked the exportation of natural gas.

How bad does the jobs report have to get before Obama changes course on fossil fuels?  A lot worse, apparently.  In the face of the worst jobs report in a year, he's doubled down on his promises to environmentalists.  The message of Obama's recent actions is clear: there will be no approval of fossil fuel development of any kind ahead of the election.

The question is whether Obama would support domestic energy development after the election, were he to win.  Given his deep-seated ideological opposition to fossil fuels, why should anyone expect him to change course, especially when he would have nothing to lose?  Having campaigned for the last time, Obama would be entirely unaccountable.  He would not just stall projects like the Keystone XL pipeline; he would kill them, and with them would go millions of jobs.

The possibility of an Obama second term is frightening.  The domestic energy industry would be gutted, the health care system would be in disarray, and the economy would settle into the "new normal" of 20% real unemployment.  The riots of Athens and Barcelona would be duplicated in every American city, with the unemployed demanding jobs and government wielding billy clubs and firing tear gas.  And with a crisis of that magnitude -- too good to waste -- Obama could respond with emergency measures recalling the worst of Europe in the 1930s.

America is only a step away from that doomsday scenario.  In five months, the nation's fate will be decided once and for all.

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture, including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).