The United States is now Balkanized into five distinct voting blocs, says Joel Kotkin. Other political analysts see the nation bifurcating along “makers” and “takers” lines, while still others say 50.6% of the popular vote is hardly a mandate. In any event, when American voters reelected President Obama, they also returned his EPA, Interior, Energy and Justice Departments, and their wide-ranging agenda for “fundamentally transforming” our nation.
This won’t mean just Obamacare, higher taxes on businesses and families, rampant spending, and tens of thousands of pages of new regulations. It will also bring more disputes over energy and environmental policies, the vanguard of Mr. Obama’s determined campaign to eliminate hydrocarbons that power our economy and embrace more “green” energy. The conflict will be fought primarily on six battlegrounds.
Carbon taxes. Hurricane Sandy presented another pretext for regulating and taxing hydrocarbons. No respectable climatologist or meteorologist believes atmospheric carbon dioxide conjured up the destructive storm, but climate alarmism has always been about political science, not real science.
Rep. Jim McDermott’s Managed Carbon Price Act imputes a cost for CO2 emissions and compels energy producers and users to buy carbon permits. The President is considering a direct carbon tax that he says will raise billions of dollars annually and reduce deficits. Both ought to be DOA in the House, if only because taxing energy use will impose tens of billions of dollars in new expenses on businesses that are already struggling to pay for the Unaffordable Care Act and countless other new government programs.
Another round of probably pointless UN-sponsored discussions on climate treaties, emission reductions and carbon taxes will kick off later this month in Doha, Qatar. The real threat is Environmental Protection Agency regulations limiting CO2 from power plants and other sources by executive fiat, and regardless of popular or congressional opposition.
With China, India and other developing countries massively increasing their greenhouse gas emissions, EPA’s actions would do nothing to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels. In fact, by 2013, China will emit twice as much carbon dioxide as the United States. The EPA regs would, however, put government in charge of our entire economy, sharply increase energy prices for every business and household, kill millions of jobs, ensure that net tax revenues never materialize, and hurt poor families most.
War on hydrocarbons. The United States and North America still have abundant hydrocarbons, onshore and offshore, including centuries’ of natural gas for heating, petrochemicals, electricity generation and vehicles. The International Energy Agency says the U.S. could overtake Saudi Arabia, to become the world’s largest oil producer by around 2020 – if radical green politics don’t get in the way.
But with little to hold their pre-election anti-energy instincts in check, the White House, EPA and Interior could well continue opposing oil sands operations and the Keystone pipeline, further delay onshore and offshore drilling, and unleash a blitzkrieg of new rules on hydraulic fracturing and coal-fired power plants. That would further undermine job creation, revenue generation and economic growth, while leaving the nation dependent on despotic regimes and costly renewable energy schemes.
Renewable energy preferences. Anti-hydrocarbon policies remain one arm of a pincer move that also uses mandates, fuel standards and subsidies to advance wind, solar and biofuel power. The looming battle over the “production tax credit” for wind-based electricity will determine whether more billions will be taken from families and profitable sectors of the economy, and given to politically connected Big Wind.
Other battles will be fought over corn for food versus cars; growing opposition to bird-killing industrial wind facilities and habitat-smothering solar projects; the impact of carbon taxes and pricey renewable energy on families, schools, hospitals, factories, businesses and jobs; and corrupt corporate cronyism among politicians and the heavily subsidized campaign contributors who run wind, solar, biofuel and electric car companies.
Unequal treatment under law. Even “renewable portfolio standards” and huge subsidies are not enough to keep industrial wind facilities in business. Without exemptions from endangered species, migratory bird, environmental review and other laws, the companies would drown under fines and regulations.
Even wildly speculative environmental impacts can scuttle oil, gas, coal and uranium proposals – and oil companies are routinely assessed major fines if ducks die in uncovered waste pits. However, wind operators incur no penalties for killing thousands of eagles, hawks, whooping cranes, bats and other rare and vital flying creatures every year. Citizens and legislators are expressing increased intolerance toward this separate regulatory regime and unequal treatment under law, to prop up expensive, unreliable energy.
Agenda science. Science, sound risk assessment and honest cost-benefit analyses have been replaced by conjecture, exaggeration, and agenda-driven politicized science at too many federal agencies. EPA is the worst offender, but the Interior, Energy and even Defense Departments are also culprits.
Risks from climate change, mercury, soot and industrial chemicals are routinely inflated, as are the purported benefits of exorbitantly expensive regulations. Meanwhile, the rules’ impacts on energy prices, business profits and competitiveness, jobs, and thus overall human health and welfare are ignored. With total federal regulatory compliance costs now estimated at $1.75 trillion and 8.8 billion hours annually, this legislative and regulatory battle could determine the fate of countless jobs and small businesses.
Subsidized pressure and propaganda. Billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies continue to flow each year to bureaucratic zealots, environmentalist pressure groups, universities and other organizations – to fund junk science, strained justifications for indefensible rules, more pressure to regulate for increasingly diminishing returns, and outright propaganda.
More watchdog and citizen groups want federal and state legislators to hold investigative hearings, demand accountability, cut bloated agency budgets that enable such expenditures, and question why tax-exempt activist groups should receive taxpayer money funneled through government agencies.
Elections have consequences. The question for those who voted for Mr. Obama is whether they truly desire the unintended consequences that could well flow from this election. For instance, unemployment is 14.3% among blacks, 10% among Hispanics and 11.8% among young adults under 30. And yet these constituencies voted heavily for Obama: blacks 93, Hispanics 71, youths 60 percent.
Do they really desire the consequences that could easily flow from anti-hydrocarbon, anti-economic growth, anti-job creation policy choices that could easily result from this election?
America can continue paying billions in subsidies annually to finance “green” technologies and agenda-driven science. Or we can generate hundreds of billions a year in royalties and taxes, create millions of jobs, and rejuvenate our economy through hydrocarbons, nuclear power and commonsense regulations.
Will President Obama, Congress and Executive Branch agencies now be more receptive to bipartisan approaches – to institutionalizing all-of-the-above (and below) energy decisions that make scientific, economic, environmental and technological sense? Or will key factions be even more entrenched, knowing the White House can act via executive decree, if Congress does nothing?
The answer will determine whether the United States becomes an economic powerhouse once again – or an enormous Greece, blessed with more oil, gas and coal than almost any other nation on earth, but refusing to develop its resources.