Ronald Reagan vs. Government Disinformation

With Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter and his disclosures of the degree to which the White House, departments and agencies, along with senators and representatives, interfered with, moderated the content of, or censored and killed social media stories, most Americans now realize the federal government has been lying to them for months and even years.  It lied about Trump, about the Bidens, and about COVID-19, and much, much more.  Unfortunately, as Ronald Reagan knew, federal government lying goes back nearly a century. 

Of course, Ronald Reagan famously proclaimed:  "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are:  I'm from the Government, and I'm here to help.” “A government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth!” and “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”  With such a realistic, some might say cynical, view of government, it is not surprising that Reagan recognized the government lied to the American people.  Of particular concern to Reagan were the lies the government spread about oil and gas resources.  In a July 1977, radio address, Reagan documented decades of lies about America’s energy future:

In 1914, the U.S. Bureau of Mines projected future production of crude oil at 5.7 billion barrels.  Since then, we’ve produced 34 billion barrels.  Incidentally about that same time we were told there was no hope of ever finding oil in Texas or Kansas.

In 1920, we were told we’d be out of oil in 15 years.  Nineteen years later in 1939, the Department of the Interior told us we’d run out in 13 years.  Since then, we have discovered more than the total known oil reserves we had at that time.

In 1948, the proven reserves in all of the free world amounted to 62.3 billion barrels.  Within 24 years, there were nine times as many.  In 1949, our Department of the Interior said the end of the U.S. oil supply was in sight.  We increased production in the next five years by a million barrels a day.

By 1970, known world reserves were six times as large as they were in 1950….  Significantly and contrary to much of what is being said, the amount of proven reserves is increasing faster than the rate of consumption.

It was not just the Department of the Interior, which along with the U.S. Forest Service manages one-third of the nation’s landmass, much of it energy rich, that was cooking the oil and gas books, just plain ignorant, or lying.  Reported Reagan, the Central Intelligence Agency was in on it.  “I don’t buy the CIA’s report quoted by [President Carter that] has us running out of oil in about 30 years….  I don’t believe it will be gone in 30 or 33 years.”

Reagan, of course, went further.  It was not just that the United States would not run out of oil and gas in three decades.  It was that America had sufficient untapped supplies not only to achieve energy independence, but also to remain energy independent far into the future.  Because Reagan recognized that “80% of the finding of new oil has been done -- not by the giant oil companies but by independents,” so called wildcatters, who, unlike federal bureaucrats with no skin in the game or stake in the outcome, knew the United States was sitting on a virtual ocean of oil and gas, Reagan concluded, “Why don’t we try the free market again?”  Reagan did just that, dramatically increased oil and gas leasing on federal lands, drastically reduced regulations, and opened the entirety of the Outer Continental Shelf to oil and gas leasing, which, thanks to Reagan, saw marvelous technological advances.

Wildcatters did their part in seeking out new discoveries as the fracking revolution, a technology that dates to the 1860s, but began its modern-day application in 1947, allowed development of massive fields on private and state lands from North Dakota, across the south, and into New England.  At one time, for example, seven out of every ten new jobs in Pennsylvania were in the oil patch.  When President Trump took office, he opened federal lands, which Obama had excluded from the boom, to oil and gas leasing.  Thus, in July 2019, America achieved Reagan’s sought-after energy independence for the first time in 62 years!

Unfortunately, as everyone knows, President Biden squandered all of it.  He cancelled energy projects, closed all federal lands to new oil and gas leasing, erected regulatory and financial barriers to oil and gas discovery and development, threw thousands of highly paid oil patch employees out of work, and doomed Americans to high energy prices, energy scarcity, and uncertain power supplies as winter begins.  All that presents unprecedented challenges to the new Congress, and especially to the House of Representatives led by Republicans who campaigned against Biden’s failed energy policies.

In the meantime, however, the lessons to be learned from the federal government’s lies exposed, not by Elon Musk, but by Reagan are these:  do not lie to the American people; tell them the truth, and trust and expect that, exercising the freedom granted by the Founding Fathers, they will solve any and all problems.

William Perry Pendley, a Wyoming attorney, served in the administrations of presidents Reagan and Trump and for 30 years provided pro bono legal representation, including before the Supreme Court of the United States.

Image: National Archives

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