Ideology is a Poor Policy Compass

The US energy renaissance has taken place in spite of President Obama who has a deep hostility to fossil fuels. Private lands and private sector innovation and capital have been the drivers for the increase in oil and gas production. Someone who was not obsessed with environmental zealotry would have learned some important lessons over the past six years. Unfortunately, the President has not. His opposition to removing the crude oil export ban, his slow walking LNG permitting, and the embarrassment associated with delaying Keystone XL reveal a very troubling mindset, in spite of rhetoric to the contrary.

The President’s claim of responsibility for the oil and gas renaissance in his State of the Union address is analogous to the man who runs to the front of a parade and then claims to be leading it. His continued reliance on Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals reflects a detachment from reality and is an insult to the American people.

Increased oil and gas production will continue, at least for a while, in spite of the steep decline in oil prices. That decline will affect new capital expenditures and not operating expenses as long as operators can at least break even. If the President wanted to do something constructive, he would lessen the heavy hand of regulation on the oil and gas industry to lower the costs imposed on it. Instead, EPA will continue advancing regulations that impose increasing costs with little or no environmental benefits. That is certainly the case with the clean power plant rule, the methane rule, and what is likely to be the new ozone standard.

The 114th Congress will focus on reigning in regulations with the Congressional Review Act and appropriations but the odds against being successful are long. That is true also about legislation to approve Keystone XL, remove the oil export ban, and speed up LNG construction. While the Senate might get enough votes to avoid a filibuster on those issues, it is not likely that it can muster enough to override the President’s threatened vetoes. So, for the next two years, US energy policy will be essentially stuck in neutral and with today’s low prices that means no new job creation and investment will be less.

The outlook on climate policy is worse than it is for oil. The President knows that he can’t get a treaty through the Senate, so will continue to use EPA’s regulatory authority to slay a hobgoblin, do grave damage to the science establishment, and further damage government credibility by false statements like 2014 was the warmest year on record.

One potential bright light could be a series of Senate Environment and Public Works hearings on climate science facts. These would include what are established facts that few if any scientists disagree about, what are the physics about CO2, what do we know about cloud formation and atmospheric water vapor, why can’t climate models perform better, what have we learned in the past decade about the affects of the sun on global temperatures, and what inferences should be drawn from the warming pause since 1998. Such hearings will only be enlightening if the emphasis is on scientific facts, not posturing and rhetoric. The time is long overdue to approach climate change and policies related to it on a factual and sound public policy basis. Pursuing policies similar to those followed by the EU will only lead to the same damaging results.

This article appeared on the National Journal’s Energy Insiders weblog at http://www.nationaljournal.com/energy/what-s-the-state-of-energy-policy-20150120

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