If timing is everything in life, politics and stand-up comedy, one has to wonder whether Senate Democrats, as a gag, intentionally chose the first full week of the summer driving season to debate a bill specifically designed to increase the cost of energy – even as gas is set to cross the $4 threshold all on its own.
Not to be outdone, Democrats in the House this afternoon will attempt to sneak through a provision in a “Secure Rural Schools” bill to nullify energy contracts worked out between U.S. producers and the Clinton administration in the late-1990s. And while that effort may not even pass basic constitutional muster, at least this week House Democrats aren’t trying to displace $6 trillion from the American economy their counterparts in the Senate.
Of course, our colleagues in the House have already done quite enough. Only 16 months have elapsed since Democrats took control of Congress, and the list of so-called energy initiatives we’ve seen emerge from their caucus range from the absolutely irrelevant (NOPEC, ad nauseum “price gouging” investigations), to the absolutely bizarre – including one proposal by a senior Democrat to establish a Soviet-style “profits board” to set the amount of money certain energy firms are allowed to make each year (the government would seize the rest). Another “energy plan” approved by the Resources Committee would’ve seized huge swaths of some of the few remaining energy fields we have left unburdened by federal moratoria.
In defense of that plan, the chairman of the committee protested that the number of permits to drill has gone up considerably over the past eight years. What he didn’t mention, of course, is the amount of energy being produced from those sites continues to drop each year – nor that 92 percent of our known federal energy reserves remain subject to restrictions on U.S. production. And he certainly didn’t cite that 62 percent of our federal energy sites are completely shut off to any production whatsoever.
Along our nation’s Outer Continental Shelf, the story is the same: a full 85 percent of our deep-ocean energy is currently held under lock and key by the federal government. And I’ll let you guess what the status is of the potential two trillion barrels of oil shale currently residing in the Mountain West.
Taken together, this long-standing unwillingness to responsibly develop our own homegrown energy resources – unique among nations in the world – has put us in a position where a small business owner in Joplin, Missouri is dependent on a stable security situation in Lagos, Nigeria to ensure a steady flow of oil to the market. Without that oil, the world supply will be diminished at about the same rate the price will go up. And it doesn’t take more than a week or two for unrest half-a-world-away to impact the way everyday Americans drive to work, feed their families, and live their lives.
Name another issue to which the United States has allowed itself to become this vulnerable, to events – and hostile nations - this far beyond its control. Energy alone represents the one core component of our country’s economic well being that’s subject to volatility in the Middle East, uprisings in West Africa, labor strikes in Britain, the whims of the weather, and even the Chinese Olympics.
Last month, Republicans in the House responded with an “all of the above” energy plan – a proposal to increase the supply of affordable energy, while also taking meaningful steps to encourage the energy we consume in our daily lives to be used better, smarter, and more efficiently. And to reward those who do.
Unfortunately, some in Washington remain tied to the dogma that responsible energy development cannot be achieved without taking a wrecking ball to the environment. Thankfully, there are also those who believe our current energy challenges aren’t to be blamed on straw men speculators or the mysticism of markets – but on a national energy policy that for years has encouraged growth in demand while working furiously to lock away new supply.
For these people, spiraling gas prices aren’t cooked up on Wall Street or in a Houston boardroom. They’re the predictable response to an energy supply landscape in which the countries with the greatest energy reserves happen to be in the most unstable, unpredictable parts of the world.
All except the United States and Canada, both of which sit atop massive supplies of energy. But while our neighbors to the north produce oil sands in Alberta, natural gas in Lake Erie, and oil off the coast of Maine, some in Congress have devoted their entire careers to preventing American companies from producing American energy for American consumers. Even as China sets up drilling rigs 45 miles from the Florida Keys.
There may be no issue that better illustrates the differences between Republicans and Democrats than energy. Consider it the “all of the above” strategy for reducing gas prices, versus the “all pain, no gain” plan for punishing those who emit carbon (like you). One plan is a carrot, the other’s a stick. And if Democrats have their way, that stick will come in the form a 2 x 4 across the back of our families, farmers, and small businesses.