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Separating reality from ideology and political agendas is difficult, but essential, if we are to revitalize our economy and help the world’s poorest families take their rightful places among Earth’s prosperous people. Energy reality is certainly in our favor. But ideological forces are powerful and persistent.
Right now, 82% of all US energy and 87% of world energy comes from oil, natural gas and coal. Less than 3% is non-hydroelectric renewable energy – and globally half of that is traditional biomass: wood, grass and animal dung that cause millions of respiratory infections and deaths every year. Thankfully, the transition to fossil fuels and electricity continues apace, replacing biomass and lifting billions out of abject poverty, with wind and solar meeting basic needs in remote areas until electricity grids arrive.
In the USA, hydraulic fracturing has taken petroleum production to its highest level since 1972, and oil imports to their lowest level since 1995. America now exports crude oil, natural gas and refined products.
The fracking genie cannot be put back in the bottle. In fact, it is being adopted all over the world, opening new shale oil and gas fields, prolonging the life of conventional fields, leaving less energy in the ground, and giving the world another century or more of abundant, reliable, affordable petroleum. That’s plenty of time to develop new energy technologies that actually work without mandates and enormous subsidies.
So much for the “peak oil” scare. Indeed, in some ways, the world’s current problem is too much oil.
In the face of this global abundance and tepid American, European, Chinese and world economies, Saudi Arabia has increased its oil production, to maintain market share and try to drive more US oil companies out of business. Oil prices have plummeted from $136 per barrel in 2008 to less than $35 or even $30 today. Natural gas has gone from $13.50 per million Btu in 2009 to $3 or less today.
Those low prices are saving families billions of dollars a year, and spurring investments in new US petrochemical and other manufacturing facilities. However, they have also cost thousands of oil patch jobs, left many energy companies near bankruptcy, and sent shockwaves through states and countries that depend on energy production and revenues for their tax base, government programs and public assistance. Prices will eventually rise again, but nowhere close to those record highs.
Amid this turmoil, as if to ensure more petroleum industry bankruptcies, President Obama wants to slap a $10.25 tax on every barrel of produced oil, and use the revenues to bolster his climate change and renewable energy agenda. Under her presidency, says Hillary Clinton, a ban on oil, gas and coal production from federal lands would be a “done deal” and the United States would have “at least 50% clean or carbon-free energy by 2050.”
Such policies would kill millions of jobs, torpedo the manufacturing renaissance, eliminate the assumed revenues by strangling the oil production that generates them, impact croplands and wildlife habitats, and prolong America’s economic doldrums. They would hammer poor, minority and blue-collar families, which spend much higher portions of their budgets on energy than do wealthy households.
Renewable energy schemes defy the laws of nature and economics. Government commands cannot make apples fall upward from Newton’s tree – or turn economic losers into success stories.
As a new Massachusetts Institute of Technology study explains, without government mandates and massive taxpayer subsidies, “green” energy simply cannot compete with conventional fuels and power plants. Wind, solar and biofuel “alternatives” work only when traditional energy prices are extremely high – which in the absence of a major Middle East or global war is not likely to happen for some time.
Similarly, a brand-new University of Chicago study found that oil prices would have to top $350 a barrel before Tesla and other electric cars become cheaper to operate than gasoline-powered vehicles! That’s because battery and charging costs are $325 per kilowatt-hour for plug-in models. No wonder Americans bought only 116,099 electric cars in 2015 – out of a record 17,500,000 cars and light trucks sold – despite huge rebates, free charging stations and single-occupant access to express lanes for electric cars.
Nevertheless, renewable energy mandates have a lot going for them. They reward political cronies. They put unelected, unaccountable activists and bureaucrats in charge of our energy decisions and living standards. They redistribute wealth: from taxpayers to politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists, wealthy investors, and workers and senior management in lucky greenback green industries and corporations.
By virtue of their wealth, political power, or employment by government agencies that operate under different rules than those they enforce on citizens and businesses, these chosen few are also shielded from the consequences of policies and decisions they impose on the rest of us.
Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Tom Steyer, Bill Gates, Leonardo DiCaprio, Elon Musk, EPA and DOE officials, and climate researchers who receive millions in taxpayer funding insist that manmade global warming threatens the world, and renewable energy is the solution. But for them to lecture us and dictate our livelihoods and living standards – while enjoying their mansions, yachts, limousines and jet-setter lifestyles – strikes many as hypocritical and intolerable.
Moreover, less developed countries signed the Paris treaty to get trillions of dollars in climate change “adaptation” and “compensation” funds; they have no intention of curbing their economic growth, fossil fuel use or CO2 emissions anytime soon. Non-elite Americans’ energy and economic sacrifices will thus bring no global benefits. It is also true that a then healthier oil industry generated the only economic and employment bright spots that (in conjunction with lies about Benghazi) got President Obama reelected.
But none of this is preventing the president from launching a final regulatory assault, to carve his policy agenda in stone, reward his allies, and pummel states and companies on his “enemies of nature” list. Nor does it prevent him from telling Africans to develop only to the extent enabled by “sustainable” wind, solar and biofuel energy because, if each of you “has got a car and a big house, the planet will boil over.”
While bridges and defense languish, he dedicates billions of dollars in his last budget for “clean” energy research, such as E. coli bacteria for next-generation biofuels; billions for climate cataclysm studies; and $2 billion for “vulnerable” Alaskan and Lower 48 communities “threatened” by oceans that are rising at barely seven inches per century. (He ignores the fact that Arctic warming and cooling cycles go back centuries, and scientists still cannot differentiate between natural and human factors in climate change.)
Mr. Obama wants his BLM, EPA, USFS, USFWS, BOEM, OSHA and other alphabet-soup agencies to implement dozens of costly but environmentally meaningless rules on energy production from federal lands. That will further cripple western state economies, just as his administration did to West Virginia.
Meanwhile, in another rubberstamp of heavy-handed government actions, the post-Scalia Supreme Court just ruled that EPA may continue forcing states and utility companies to spend billions of dollars trying to comply with coal-fired power plant rules, while lower courts spend years reviewing challenges to them.
And still erudite “experts” ponder why the US economy is stagnant. Here’s part of the answer: Crushing tax rates and an impenetrable Tax Code. Regulations that cost companies and families nearly $2 trillion a year. Bureaucrats who impose costly agendas with no accountability for blatant incompetence, outright fraud or intentional harm. Too many programs that reward people for not working, not looking for work, not finishing school, and having children they can’t care for with guys who can’t bother to be fathers.
The 2016 election year stakes are huge. Candidates need to end the insults, and start focusing on issues that matter, amid Mr. Obama’s ongoing efforts to “fundamentally transform” the United States. Voters need to ask tough questions – and demand to know exactly how candidates intend to “make America great again,” control the federal behemoth and pay for all these “essential” government programs.