“Funneling taxpayer money to support green energy distorts the market and creates a huge amount of economic inefficiency — like a homeowner being pressured to use Uncle Bob for home repairs, even though the work is slow, poor quality and needlessly expensive, just because he’s family.”
by Merrill Matthews
Did President Obama somehow become the most pro-energy president in decades? You could be forgiven if that was your take-away from his comments on energy policy in his State of the Union speech.
But applying the Truth-o-Meter to several of his claims reveals a very different administration than the one on display during Obama’s speech.
Claim 1. “We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years.”
The vast majority of increased oil and gas production has come from drilling on private lands, over which — thankfully — the Obama administration has no control. Where the administration does have control, federal lands and offshore, it has denied, delayed or slow-walked countless drilling requests.
According to the Institute for Energy Research (IER), during the Clinton years the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) granted an annual average of 3,764 oil and gas leases. The number dropped to 2,879 under President George W. Bush and 1,856 under Obama — about half of the average annual leases granted under the Clinton administration.
Nobel Royalties, Inc., has released a study examining the decline in drilling on federal lands under the Obama administration. Using BLM statistics, the study found that in the lower 48 states there were 126.6 million cumulative federal acres leased in 1984 compared to just 38.9 million in 2010. That’s a 30-year low. The study also asserts that on federal lands, 91 percent of resources are either inaccessible or restricted due to the government.
Claim 2. “That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.”
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.
After the Deep Horizon oil spill, Salazar put a six-month delay on an offshore drilling program. Frustrated with the administration’s stonewalling, the IER released a statement in December 2009 that included the following 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.”
In March 2010 the Obama administration announced that it would delay an offshore drilling plan and only make available a fraction of the offshore land that had been previously agreed upon. But a federal judge struck down the moratorium. So Salazar issued another, newly worded moratorium — in essence, defying a federal judge. The administration eventually lifted the moratorium in October of 2010, 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, so that in February 2011 a federal judge found the Department of Interior in contempt of court for its foot-dragging.
Claim 3. “Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America.”
If you take one penny and double it, you have a 100 percent increase — but you still don’t have very much. And that’s where we are with renewable energy.
According to the government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA), oil, natural gas and coal were responsible for 82 percent of U.S. energy consumption in 2011. Nuclear power accounted for 8.3 percent. Biofuels made up 1 percent and all other renewable sources represented 8 percent.
There may be benefits from renewable energy, but it will be decades before it plays a significant role in energy generation.
Claim 4. “Solar energy gets cheaper by the year — so let’s drive costs down even further.”
That’s code for handing out billions more of taxpayer dollars. Solar energy only gets “cheaper” because the administration has poured money into it. As the Wall Street Journal points out, “for every tax dollar that goes to coal, oil and natural gas, wind gets $88 and solar $1,212.” And let’s not forget Solyndra, one of Obama’s model solar companies that got $535 million dollars before it went belly up.
Claim 5. “We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar — with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it.”
Well, those fuel efficiency requirements don’t go into effect until 2025, and it’s more like thousands of temporary jobs that would never have existed had the president not poured billions of dollars into them.
Funneling taxpayer money to support green energy distorts the market and creates a huge amount of economic inefficiency — like a homeowner being pressured to use Uncle Bob for home repairs, even though the work is slow, poor quality and needlessly expensive, just because he’s family.
If the president’s goal is to create jobs and grow the middle class, he should be unleashing the oil and gas industry. States that have done so are experiencing an economic boom. Texas is looking at a $8.8 billion budget surplus for the first time since before Obama took office, and the primary reason is revenue from the oil and gas industry. And yet the state has had to fight the Environmental Protection Agency in court every step of the way — and the state has won.
Even so, Texas has an aggressive wind energy effort. But it’s the oil and gas industry success that allows for more renewable energy efforts, not the other way around, as the president seems to think.
The oil and gas explosion is making Obama’s economy look better than it otherwise would. The irony is that he will get credit for that boom, even though he has devoted so much time and taxpayer money trying to stop it.
Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar at the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. This article first ran at Forbes.com.