President Obama Impresses on Earth Day

As smart and aware as President Obama is, it should be no surprise that he would be able to deliver, at least in my opinion, one of the best summaries of America’s current energy challenges. 

But surprised I was still by a significant portion of his remarks made yesterday in Iowa:

Now, this will not be easy.  There aren’t any silver bullets.  There’s no magic energy source right now.  Maybe some kid in a lab somewhere is figuring it out.  Twenty years from now, there may be an entirely new energy source that we don’t yet know about.  But right now, there’s no silver bullet.  It’s going to take a variety of energy sources, pursued through a variety of policies, to drastically reduce our dependence on oil and fossil fuels. 

As I’ve often said, in the short term, as we transition to renewable energy, we can and should increase our domestic production of oil and natural gas.  We’re not going to transform our economy overnight.  We still need more oil, we still need more gas.  If we’ve got some here in the United States that we can use, we should find it and do so in an environmentally sustainable way.  We also need to find safer ways to use nuclear power and store nuclear waste.

Overall, I could not agree more.  But then there are a couple rhetorical hurdles to overcome, even in those few sentences.  The first is easier: “If we’ve got some here in the United States…”  Okay, well… we’ve got some.  Rest easy.  And that point won’t shouldn’t take much convincing.  While the feigned supposition does bother me a little, it is a mere cosmetic issue when compared to the second point in question: “As I’ve often said, in the short term, as we transition to renewable energy, we can and should increase our domestic production of oil and natural gas.”  Supposedly this is what supporters of American producers of oil and natural gas would want to hear, that is until you get to defining “the short term.” 

It seems, based on the recent introduction of policies that plan accordingly, the President and many in Congress either believe, or would very much like for “twenty years from now” to be more like ten, or even five.  It’s a dangerous move; massive tax proposals financially dismantling the oil and gas industry in order to pay for investments in unproven alternatives.  Nevermind the problems in the too-good-to-be-true logic of taxing one energy source to pay for another, clearly they would like to get ahead of schedule in weaning the nation off fossil fuels.  Fair enough, ambition is one thing, but isn’t the idea of being ahead of schedule that you are ahead, and on pace to improve upon prudent goals rather than shoot for targets that even the President designing them admits are unrealistic?

As much as President Obama’s statement is in clear support increased American production of oil and natural gas, the proposals so far out of the White House, particularly in their initial budget proposal, and then even more so in the language coming from many Democrats in Congress simply indicate otherwise.  Taxing the oil and gas producing industry now, regardless of scale, intention, or allocation of funds back into alternative development does not add up to the reality, “We still need more oil, we still need more gas.”  Higher taxes and restricted access, if not punitive or political actions, are at the very least misguided.  These aren’t new points to be made though.  Political realities are what they are- and the same can be said for energy supply and demand realities.  The frustration, and the reason “If we’ve got some…” bothers so much is because it is too often unclear which reality is ultimately more important to this President or some in Congress: the political, or the tangible energy challenges that effect all Americans and will for generations.

President Obama made it very clear yesterday that he “gets it” on a fairly comprehensive level regarding our energy future.  That’s good, very good in fact as I don’t at all suspect this President is in any way “pandering” to oil and gas interests.  He means what he says here.  And we can expect in drafting energy policy that the devil will at some point be in the details; there will be give and take.  But until Congress and the administration indicate a shift in current policy, the devastating tax proposals that would severely curtail oil and gas production in the United States remain on the table.  Fine I suppose, if that was the goal: to cripple American oil and gas production and/or threaten our energy and national security. 

But destruction of course is not the goal of our President, and he was very clear about that yesterday, Earth Day.   A smart man, unquestionably, with some very bad proposals on the table.  Hard to believe that situation won’t correct itself soon enough.