Enviros and Obama: The Thelma and Louise of Our Economy

Marita Noon
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Posted: Aug 07, 2011 12:01 AM

On Friday America’s credit rating was downgraded from AAA to AA+. For the first time in America’s post war history, we are, officially, not on top. Only one of the three major rating agencies took this step and they did it late on Friday. Given that there are two days for the news settle before the markets open, we can hope that the impact will not be catastrophic. While there is plenty of negative news addressing the gloom and doom that this could mean, there is a silver lining.

The downgrade tells us that what we’ve been doing isn’t working and we must make some course corrections. How we react will determine whether or not the other agencies decide to follow suit.

Here are three things that most of us can agree on: America needs jobs, America needs to make more stuff other countries want, and America needs lower energy prices—and the three are intricately connected. If we could do all of the above, we could see dramatic changes in the economy and salvage the credit rating. Instead, the Obama administration is driving in the opposite direction.

For months business and industry has been asking for regulatory relief. The Business Roundtable says that the administration has made decisions that “create an increasingly hostile environment for investment and job creation.” Yet, in his celebratory speech following the passage of the debt ceiling increase, President Obama said, “Growing the economy isn’t just about cutting spending; it’s not about rolling back regulations that protect our air and our water and keep our people safe.  That’s not how we’re going to get past this recession.” Clearly he intends to continue speeding down the road to ruin.

The credit rating downgrade was handed down on Friday. Also on Friday The EPA handed out harsh new regulations that will increase the cost of energy. The Public Utility Company of New Mexico (PNM) has just completed an exhaustive study of the cost of electricity from the various sources such as coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind, and solar. The report makes clear that coal provides the most cost-effective electricity. However, the EPA has finalized its plan mandating that PNM install selective catalytic reduction technology on all four generating units in the San Juan Generating Station—costing PNM, and ultimately the consumers, $750 million (even though compliance be achieved with a different technology that the state approved at a cost of $77 million—roughly one tenth of the cost).

Decisions like the PNM regulations are being made by the EPA and effecting power plants throughout the country. In Kentucky, the high cost of compliance with new EPA requirements will force closure of the Green River and Tyrone coal-fueled plants. Kentucky Utility estimates that, as a result of these regulations, costs to their customers will go up by 12.2% over the next five years.

So no one wants higher energy prices, but how does this connect to the credit rating downgrade? Because, energy prices and energy availability are directly connected to manufacturing and jobs, and manufacturing and jobs are directly connected to a stable and, even, growing economy.

Chip-making giant, Intel has their largest plant in the world in New Mexico. Since 1995 they have invested an average of $1 billion a year in the New Mexico plant and employ roughly 3000 people. Intel makes stuff that the world wants and they make it here in America. Intel vice president Joshua Walden chooses where the company manufactures its semiconductors. He was in Albuquerque last week. When asked about expanding in Albuquerque, he said under the right circumstances and right time he would have no problem with expanding operations if the infrastructure, including electricity, is there to support it.

By making energy expensive, the Obama administration is chasing away manufacturing and killing jobs.  But Obama is steadfast in his unwillingness to rollback regulations.

The lowest cost electricity comes from coal and natural gas—something America has lots of, something that can be sold in the global marketplace, and something that creates jobs. In fact, the energy industry is one of the few sectors of the economy that is hiring. Energy service companies are struggling to find enough workers and worry about a shortage. Much of the strength in the energy sector comes from new discoveries like the Marcellus shale. Despite the need for both energy and jobs, the EPA has just announced the first national air standards for gas wells that are drilled in shale using hydraulic fracturing. The proposed rules would apply to more than 25,000 wells a year, as well as to storage tanks and other pieces of equipment used by the oil and gas industry—which businesses say will kill jobs and hurt the economy. And these new regulations are just for fracking. Coal extraction has been hit hard too.

Like Thelma and Louise, the American economy, with Obama at the wheel, is heading for a cliff. Hopefully, the credit rating downgrade will be a speed bump that slows us down enough to realize that what we are doing isn’t working and we need a course correction. Since the president will not change direction, we’ll have to change him.


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