Neither side right on energy

Published 12:01 am Saturday, March 26, 2011

By Cameron Smith

With respect to our national energy policy, most Americans know we have a problem, but few fully grasp the magnitude of the problem. If our national energy policy is any indication, the same could be said about most of our elected leaders. In order to improve the nation’s energy policy, political leaders in Washington must recognize that the current policies of both the Right and Left fail to comprehensively address our nation’s energy demands.

The United States consumes almost 19 million barrels of oil per day. Add slightly less than 1 billion short tons of coal and more than 24 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to the United States’ annual consumption, and the massive scale of America’s energy intake becomes clear. For comparison, just consider that China, with a population more than four times larger than the United States, consumes “only” 8.3 million barrels of oil per day.

Both ends of the political spectrum seem to understand our consumption challenges, but the responses have been categorically different. The Left attacks conventional domestic energy production in an effort to artificially increase energy costs and theoretically usher in the “green energy” age. Consider a few examples of this policy in action. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has seriously slowed the coal mine permitting process with additional requirements released last year. Although the moratorium on drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico ended, the Obama Administration is currently fighting court rulings requiring action on stalled deep-water permits. In February, the Department of the Interior announced that it would delay oil shale leases in the U.S to review current leasing rules. Furthermore, the future of nuclear energy is in flux with President Obama and Senator Reid effectively shuttering the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.

On the other side of the spectrum, the political Right has embraced an “all of the above” energy policy largely directed at expanding supply to meet our extreme consumption. The centerpiece of this policy is tapping into our existing reserves to increase our energy supply. Unfortunately, the policy rhetoric focuses more on “Drill, Baby, Drill” than on highlighting the fiscal conservatism of energy efficiency and conservation. Liberals have seemingly cornered the ideological market on new energy technology, and conservatives have done little to fight that perception.

Once again, the facts speak volumes. The United States has, by average estimates, 47.5 billion barrels of undiscovered technically recoverable oil in the states and more than 85 billion barrels underlying offshore waters on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) in addition to more than 280 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves. On top of these resources, America has more than 260 billion short tons of recoverable coal, according to the National Mining Association and the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

If these resources were not enough, the United States Bureau of Land Management reports that the U.S. “holds more than 50 percent of the world’s known oil shale resource…. The total reserve contained within these deposits is estimated to be…1.5 trillion barrels of recoverable oil.”

Without a doubt, we have the resources to power our nation domestically and reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources. Unfortunately, our political leadership in Washington has failed to recognize that we must utilize these resources while also taking steps to improve our energy efficiency and reduce our consumption.

Cameron Smith is general counsel and legislative liaison for the Alabama Policy Institute.