Guest Editorials


Obama's energy policy schizophrenia

Merrill MatthewsPresident Obama's recent attempt to convince the country he is the most pro-energy president in decades reminds me of the Ralph Waldo Emerson observation that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

If true, the president must have one of those big minds because he has never been constrained by consistency.

In his recent State of the Union address, Obama claimed more domestic oil and gas are being drilled than at any time in decades. The only problem with his boast is all of that expanded drilling is going on in spite of the president's efforts to limit it.

As a candidate, Obama made it clear he wanted to transition the United States away from oil, coal and natural gas to clean energy sources, like solar, wind and biofuels. As president he has done his best to keep that promise.

His strategy is twofold: (1) hinder or stop development of traditional energy sources, (2) while pumping billions of taxpayer dollars to his green energy friends.

He has succeeded on both fronts – sort of.

There is a drilling explosion, thanks mostly to new drilling techniques such as "fracking." But drilling is mostly being done on privately held land. The president and his traditional-energy skeptics have little control over those resources. So these developments are booming, creating jobs and helping swell local tax revenues.

Obama has also been successful in handing out billions of taxpayer dollars to green-energy projects. However, that effort has taken a hit due to a string of high-profile failures like Solyndra ($535 million loan guarantee), Beacon Power ($43 million loan guarantee), and, most recently, Ener1(used $55 million of a $118 million government grant).

Now that Obama is in full campaign mode, he wants to confuse the record to convince Americans that he is leading the energy-production charge. But the facts speak for themselves.

For example, almost immediately upon taking office, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar began withdrawing tracts of public land that had already been approved for oil and gas leasing. Most of these tracts had undergone a thorough, seven-year-long environmental review.

Six days later Salazar put a six-month delay on an offshore-drilling program. Soon after, the Interior Department decided to prioritize solar-energy development, which had the practical impact of removing large swaths of federal lands from traditional energy exploration.

Frustrated with the administration's stonewalling, the Institute for Energy Research released a statement in December 2009 that included the following stunning stats: "To date, the Obama Administration has offered 2,888,354 onshore acres for lease, of which 1,028,299 have actually been leased. The Administration also rescinded or deferred 77,055 acres that were issued for lease in Utah in 2008. Accounting for this subtraction, fewer onshore acres were leased in 2009 than any other year on record."

Are you detecting a pattern? There's more, lots more.

In March 2010 the Obama administration announced it would delay an offshore drilling plan and only make available a fraction of the offshore land that had been previously agreed upon.

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that exploded in the Gulf on April 20, 2010, led to the biggest oil spill in history. So it was understandable, albeit economically damaging, when the administration responded with a moratorium on new drilling in the Gulf.

But a federal judge struck down the moratorium. So Salazar just issued another, newly worded moratorium - in essence, defying a federal judge. The administration eventually lifted the moratorium in October, but drilling applicants then began to notice that permits were being slow-walked through the approval process. By December, the offshore ban was largely reinstated.

By February 2011, a federal judge found the Department of Interior in contempt of court for its foot-dragging.

And, of course, Obama recently nixed the Keystone XL pipeline that would have carried millions of barrels of Canadian oil to Texas for refining.

So when the president claimed that he's "opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration" and that he's ordering his administration "to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources," the public should be skeptical.

This is the same president who claimed health-insurance premiums would go down by $2,500 by the end of his first term. You'll be lucky if they only go up $2,500.

Obama has done more to block traditional energy production than any president in history. Inconsistency may not trouble him, but it will voters.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas.