Election 2012: A Dramatic Crossroad

Tuesday’s election will be the most significant in generations. The differences in the philosophy of the two candidates, how they approach public policy issues, and their views on the role of government could not be more different. We are at a major crossroads. We know based on the past four years where one road will take us and we have to rely on speeches and policy papers to judge where the other will take us. In simple terms, the choices are between an outcomes oriented society and an opportunity society.

If the next President and next Congress do not seriously confront our deficit and debt problems, including entitlements, it will not matter much what energy and environmental policies are promoted. We will be traveling down the road of bankrupt European economies. The next President and Members of Congress should take to heart the admonition of Abraham Lincoln: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew”

It should be clear that energy and economic growth are tightly linked and that abundant and affordable energy is essential to stimulate greater growth. Based on the past four years, it is doubtful that energy will be more affordable under a second Obama term. While federal offshore leases have returned to their pre-2010 spill levels, there remains great uncertainty about what policy positions will prevail post November 6 and how they will impact production and cost. The US is rich in oil and gas resources. If we give a higher priority to their development, imports will continue to go down and investments in good paying jobs will go up.

As the composition of our economy continues to change, the importance of electrical power generation and its reliability will become even more important. A policy that promotes but does not dictate greater use of natural gas is imperative.

The Keystone pipeline will almost certainly be approved as will oil and gas development on private lands. What is less certain is the regulatory burdens that will be imposed on them. A continuation of the Lisa Jackson approach at the EPA guarantees that costly burdens will be imposed on “fracking,”perhaps the actual construction of the pipeline, and other industrial activities involving fossil energy. If the EPA moves forward with it proposed reduction in the ozone NAAQS most of the nation will be in a state of non-attainment and that will impose costs on construction and business operations. Our economic wellbeing cannot afford four more years of zealotry driven regulation.

A Jackson EPA will continue to use regulation to suppress greenhouse gas emissions and that impacts fossil energy use even though CO2 emissions are declining and will not according to EIA return to their 1990 level until around 2035.

The Supreme Court decision notwithstanding, the decision on what emissions are covered by the Clean Air Act is the responsibility of Congress. Unless control of the Senate changes and bi-partisanship re-emerges, climate policy will continue to be made by unelected zealots.

If Governor Romney wins the White House and the republicans take over the Senate, changes in energy and environmental policy will be governed by the President’s ability to achieve a greater degree of bi-partisanship. That will prove difficult if the democrats refuse to search for common ground. Change in Senate control does not mean a change from gridlock.

There is no basis in history to expect a dramatic roll back in regulations. Some bottled up regulations might not go forward and the most extreme ones like the Utility MACTcould be subject to serious revision. What is needed more than anything is a new regulatory model that places more emphasis on high quality data, comparative risk and cost-benefit analysis, Congressional oversight, and a “look back” process. Over the past 30, the Code of Federal Regulations has grown from 100,000 pages to 163,000. Can anyone really with a straight face make the case that we have 63% more problems requiring federal controls?

The time has come to replace images with realities so that we can think anew and act anew.

Originally published by the National Journal at http://energy.nationaljournal.com/2012/11/election-2012-whats-at-stake-f.php#2260312

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