After weeks of high gas prices, President Obama is on the defensive about his energy policy. On March 15, he justified his administration’s high-profile green energy failures by invoking a predecessor’s alleged skepticism of innovations: “Rutherford B. Hayes reportedly said about the telephone: ‘It’s a great invention but who would ever want to use one?’ ” Obama went on to demonize Republican opposition to his renewable energy plans. “If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail, they must have been founding members of the ‘Flat Earth Society.’ They would not have believed that the world was round.”
As it turns out, Rutherford B. Hayes never said that about telephones and was quite impressed by the invention. (Though “It’s a great invention but who would ever want to use one?” would apply pretty well to the Chevy Volt.) Also, the Flat Earth Society was started by a 20th-century eccentric, and no reasonably knowledgeable person at the time of Columbus believed you could sail off the edge of the earth. Rumor has it that Obama has already arranged a special White House screening of the much-anticipated political documentary Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
Undeterred by the president’s making a fool of himself, White House press secretary Jay Carney lashed out last week when House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan’s proposed budget zeroed out a number of the administration’s renewable energy programs. “You have to be aggressively and deliberately ignorant of the world economy not to know and understand that clean energy technologies are going to play a huge role in the 21st century,” Carney said.
Actually, you have to be aggressively and deliberately ignorant of the Obama administration’s own projections to think renewables are the key to energy policy. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s projections, as late as 2035 just 16 percent of America’s energy will come from renewables—even with aggressive government investment. And that estimate is probably optimistic.
With gas hovering around $4 a gallon and a series of high-profile “green jobs” scandals, the president is vulnerable on energy policy, and he knows it. Regarding the collapse of Solyndra, Obama recently had the gall to tell the media, “This was not our program per se.” It was just a coincidence that the now-bankrupt company with $500 million in loan guarantees from Washington was largely funded by a bundler for Obama’s presidential campaign.
It’s not enough, however, to oppose the White House. Republicans need to present a compelling alternative vision for meeting our energy needs. It shouldn’t be hard, considering the president’s policy consists of tossing expensive bouquets to campaign donors and giving disingenuous speeches.
Unlike Obama, the GOP has already proposed a comprehensive energy plan that would do wonders for green energy. The legislation, A Roadmap for America’s Energy Future, was authored by Rep. Devin Nunes, from the Central Valley of California, and introduced early last year.
Where the administration has done its level best to halt energy extraction on public lands, the GOP legislation would open up to drilling the Outer Continental Shelf, estimated to contain enough oil and natural gas to meet America’s energy needs for about 60 years. It would also open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and encourage domestic energy production elsewhere.
Under the roadmap, new federal revenue from increased domestic energy production would go into a trust fund for renewables. Money from the trust fund would be handed out in “reverse auctions,” where private companies would compete for government contracts based on who can produce the most energy for the least amount of money. To hear the president tell it, the belief that renewable-energy companies should be rewarded for demonstrable success makes the GOP a bunch of flat-earthers.
Some parts of Nunes’s roadmap may need updating. The bill calls for the construction of 200 nuclear power plants, and those ambitions may have to be scaled down in light of last year’s Fukushima disaster. Any new plan should also put the screws to Obama over his transparently political decision to halt the Keystone XL pipeline. Last week, the president announced he would fast-track the southern portion of the pipeline, but until he actually green-lights the part that connects us to Canada—where the oil is—he’s not doing anything meaningful.
Regardless, Nunes’s plan contains more than enough good ideas to be a starting point for a congressional Republican counteroffensive on energy. It’s also become increasingly obvious that, to the extent we’ve seen a jobs recovery, it’s being fueled by the domestic energy industry, especially traditional sources such as oil and natural gas.
Voters may be paying at the pump now, but if Republicans can show how shortsighted and expensive the Obama administration’s energy policy is, it’s the president who will pay in November.