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The Obama energy team recently got pelted from an unlikely source. In a CNBC interview, oil tycoon turned green-tech evangelist T. Boone Pickens lambasted the president for not doing enough to promote domestic oil and natural gas production. Pickens summed up the entirety of the White House’s policy position for traditional energy in three pithy words: “Tax them more.”
Pickens himself has poured millions of dollars into wind and other sexy renewables in recent years – and blanketed the airwaves with self-produced TV spots bragging about it. But instead of being in Obama greenland, Pickens is back on the fossil-fuel ranch. How things change.
The reincarnated Pickens now dares to tell the president that renewables are second string: “President Obama talks about wind and solar all the time, but what you’ve got to do is develop [oil and natural gas] resources in this country,” Pickens charges. “We have those resources, and you can get off OPEC oil.”
Earlier this year, the president retreated (remember his Cushing, Oklahoma oil moment?) to an “all of the above” energy approach. But he hasn’t backed that up with much actual policy to liberate oil and natural gas resources -- and he’s still resolutely committed to federal subsidies to green energy firms that would otherwise close shop.
Consider that the White House has stood firm in support of the drilling moratorium on the Pacific coast and most of the Atlantic. And the total rate of offshore leasing has fallen two-thirds under this administration.
For federal onshore, the story is also discouraging. Since January 2009, that rate has dropped by half. And the total amount of land under lease has declined by about a fifth.
The go-slow strategy of the Department of Interior is joined by Obama policy elsewhere. The president pays lip service to the massive economic benefits stemming from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in hydrocarbon extraction. Yet he pushes for new federal safety standards guaranteed to delay new fracturing projects and leave natural gas firms with large compliance costs.
Then there is pipeline policy needed to get feedstock to refineries to manufacture into oil products for consumers. The Obama administration has approved the construction of the southern leg of Keystone XL, but it’s needlessly dragging its feet on approval for the rest of the pipeline. It punted that decision to the State Department which, conveniently, isn’t expected to make a move until after the election.
And then there’s that kudzu of regulations average energy firms have to navigate just to get official approval for their projects. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce calculates at least 351 separate energy projects suffered significant delays due to federal regulations. And the Western Energy Alliance estimates that environmental approval for the average energy development initiative takes over seven years.
All told, Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy is really a “all of our regulation” policy. It is a “hurt the best, bail out the worst” redistributionist policy. Karl Marx’s “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” has some peculiar offspring.
Obama’s main challenger in this presidential election appears to be more freedom friendly when it comes to the policies we need to expand America’s energy supply.
Mitt Romney has promised to cut renewable-energy subsidies, particularly those going to the sinkhole of wind production; open up our massive coal reserves for electricity generation; and streamline environmental regulations so that smart and safe new projects won’t face needless delays.
The Republican nominee has also offered to strip the Interior Department of the power to lease and issue drilling permits. Instead, that authority would flow to the states, which are likely to provide permits more efficiently and more quickly than any bloated federal agency.
All these plans translate to sustainable economic activity (think jobs) at a time when the national unemployment rate is stuck at over 8 percent and tens of millions of Americans are trapped outside the workforce, desperately trying to get in.
What can the free market do? A new study by IHS Global Insight finds shale gas production could support some 870,000 jobs by 2015 -- and 1.6 million by 2035. SWCA Environmental Consultants estimates approving 20 proposed oil and gas projects on federal lands would generate 120,000 new jobs and $27.5 billion in economic activity.
Robert L. Bradley is CEO and founder of the Institute for Energy Research and author of seven books on energy. He blogs at www.masterresource.org.