Romney’s Energy Plans Don’t Bode Well for the Future

Mitt Romney has officially given up on the future. At least, that’s the way it looks from the energy plan he released last month.

The future is in peril for a number of reasons. Climate change is slowly eroding the environmental stability we’ve enjoyed for centuries. The wide gap between what we import and what we export is driving manufacturing jobs overseas. And our dependence on foreign oil embroils our national security in the explosive Middle East.

With his new energy plan, Romney surrendered on all three fronts.

When Romney proposed expanding oil drilling to previously restricted areas, he was probably listening to people like Fox News commentator Peter Morici, who has said, “Oil imports could be cut by two-thirds by boosting U.S. oil production to 10 million barrels a day.”

Only one problem: It’s impossible.

According to the Energy Information Agency, even if we open all those lands to exploration, our current production of 6 million barrels per day will never grow to more than 7.5 million, let alone 10. There just isn’t enough oil under the ground — and even if there were, it wouldn’t be available for another decade.

So we will always import oil — unless we replace it with something else.

By “something else,” of course I’m referring to renewable energy. The Romney plan, however, doesn’t propose a single policy to encourage the development and export of renewable energy technologies. Instead, it advocates even less oversight of an industry that experienced the worst environmental disaster in American history only two years ago.

Romney’s preference for oil over solar and wind power is particularly striking in light of his party’s alarmism over inflation (which never seems to materialize when they say it will). After all, oil prices have been rising for three decades, while manufacturing prices have been falling.

Since the 1990s, installation costs for wind power have fallen by 90 percent. In last year alone, solar panel prices fell 50 percent. Compare that to gas prices, which…well, you know.

Someone needs to tell Mitt Romney: You can’t be an inflation hawk and an oil bull at the same time. If you commit the nation to more oil, you’re committing to rising prices.

For a candidate so enthralled with innovation and entrepreneurship, it’s especially astonishing to see Romney’s indifference to the renewable energy market. If any industry could close the trade deficit with China, it’s solar and wind power, where China has much less advantage than in other manufactured products because labor only accounts for 4 percent of the total cost. “Imported oil and subsidized imports from China account for nearly the entire trade gap,” according to Morici.

So why not kill two birds with one stone?

Once upon a time, the federal government would have supported a blossoming industry like renewable technologies. Back when it was the fastest-growing economy in the world, the United States had the world’s highest industrial tariffs, protecting its young factories until they were strong enough to compete with foreign firms.

No longer. Under the rules of the World Trade Organization, high tariffs are not allowed, except in retaliation to a foreign competitor’s protectionism. China, for example, is now paying such a price for subsidizing its solar companies, giving them an unfair advantage over American firms like SolarWorld.

But, in many ways, the damage is done. Since receiving subsidies from the Chinese government, several Chinese companies have overtaken their American competitors. If we want to fight back, we’ll have to do the same with loan guarantees, tax credits, and major government purchases (all of which are allowed by the WTO).

But the Romney plan features nothing of the sort.

Sadly, we’ve seen this indifference before. As Judith Stein documents in Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies, we have watched too many opportunities go by since the 1970s, allowing foreign governments to subsidize their manufacturers while ours closed factories.

This is another such opportunity. But instead of seizing it, Romney is content to allow it to fall into the hands of the Chinese, just as he is willing to let the environment fall into the hands of Big Oil. The future will just have to fend for itself.

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This op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

“Drill, Obama, Drill” Won’t Save You at the Gas Station

Republicans have a problem. The economy is improving…under President Obama’s watch.

And it is precisely because the economy is improving, both here and abroad, that gasoline prices are rising.

Because they can no longer blame him for slow growth or rising unemployment, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich are now blaming the President for high gas prices, which is a little like blaming him for a strong economy, a charge he’d gladly plead guilty to.

So here’s my question for the candidates: If Democratic policies are responsible for oil that now costs $102/barrel, does that mean that Republican policies were responsible for oil that cost $145/barrel back in 2008?

In fact, George W. Bush oversaw the largest rise in oil prices in American history, from $20/barrel in 2001. And you know what? It wasn’t his fault either.

Demand is growing, and supply can’t keep up. Global production has been flat since 2005. No president can change that.

But you can’t say Barack Obama hasn’t tried.

President Obama has overseen the largest rise in drilling rigs in American history, from less than 200 in April 2009 to over 1,200 today. American oil production is the highest it’s been in eight years. We now import 15 percent less oil than we did in 2005. For the first time since 1949, the United States is a net exporter of gasoline, diesel, and other fuels.

There was a time, not too long ago, when none of this was true. Back then, during the last presidential campaign, we were told that “drill, baby, drill” was the answer to our woes.

Well, we’ve tested their theory. We’ve ramped up drilling exponentially. We’re living through a mini-boom in oil production. And gas prices keep rising.

The skeptics have been vindicated.

But old slogans die hard.

No amount of drilling can bring back the good old days. According to economist James Hamilton, “The 138 million barrels produced in North Dakota and Montana in 2010 is about half of what the state of Oklahoma produced in 1927 and a fifth of what the state of Alaska produced in 1988.”

Increasing production in new oil fields only replaces declining production elsewhere. That’s why American oil production has fallen from 10 million barrels per day in 1970 to 6 million today.

Even with new shale oil in North Dakota and further exploration in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska, the International Energy Agency predicts we’ll never produce more than 6.7 million barrels per day. Even if the President opened the Outer Continental Shelf to exploration, the best we could expect is another 0.5 million barrels per day.

That may sound like a lot, but it’s a drop in the bucket on the world stage, where prices are set. If we opened every possible region to oil exploration, the Energy Information Administration estimates that gas prices would fall two cents per gallon.

But not until 2030.

Because drilling takes a long time.

That’s why, when the Washington Post fact-checkers tried to figure out how the Keystone XL pipeline might affect gas prices, they reported: “We could not find any experts…to say that the prospect of the pipeline being built in the future would somehow impact the price of gasoline today.”

Two cents per gallon, eighteen years from now. Is that what our environment is worth? Is that what the safety of our workforce is worth?

After the worst environmental disaster in American history.

After a record-setting fourteen billion-dollar weather disasters last year.

After the highest Arctic temperatures and the lowest Arctic sea ice volume on record.

After fourteen dangerous leaks at the first Keystone pipeline.

Can we not say we’ve been warned?

But the Republican candidates don’t care. If they really cared about rising gas prices, they wouldn’t be beating the war drums against Iran. Time and time again, conflict in the Middle East has inflated the price of oil.

Just ask George W. Bush. Okay, so maybe it was his fault after all.

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This op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

What to Read on the Bin Laden Assassination

The Cost of Bin Laden: $3 Trillion Over 15 Years — Tim Fernholz & Jim Tankersley

What do we have to show for that tab? Two wars that continue to occupy 150,000 troops and tie up a quarter of our defense budget; a bloated homeland-security apparatus that has at times pushed the bounds of civil liberty; soaring oil prices partially attributable to the global war on bin Laden’s terrorist network; and a chunk of our mounting national debt, which threatens to hobble the economy unless lawmakers compromise on an unprecedented deficit-reduction deal.
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All of that has not given us, at least not yet, anything close to the social or economic advancements produced by the battles against America’s costliest past enemies.

What If Bin Laden Had Stood Trial? — Robert Lambert

[The] war on terror lost moral authority and became a gift to al-Qaida propagandists. The fact that the most effective counterterrorism is always closely focused on the prosecution of terrorist conspirators appeared to be of no concern in the Pentagon or Whitehall.

The Osama bin Laden Exception — Glenn Greenwald

The Allied powers could easily have taken every Nazi war criminal they found and summarily executed them without many people caring. But they didn’t do that, and the reason they didn’t is because how the Nazis were punished would determine not only the character of the punishing nations, but more importantly, would set the standards for how future punishment would be doled out.

Surveillance, Not Waterboarding, Led to Bin Laden — Spencer Ackerman

[Waterboarding] and other abusive techniques failed to get the name out of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libbi. A New York Times account has both men claiming not to know even the courier’s nom de guerre, which actually may have counted as a kind of confirmation by omission in this case. That says something about the limits of brute force in interrogation.

Torture May Have Slowed Hunt for Bin Laden, Not Hastened It — Dan Froomkin

It now appears likely that several detainees had information about a key al Qaeda courier — information that might have led authorities directly to bin Laden years ago. But subjected to physical and psychological brutality, “they gave us the bare minimum amount of information they could get away with to get the pain to stop, or to mislead us…”

What Lionel Murphy Would Say About Donald Trump

by Norman Horowitz

It was sometime in the very early ’70s that I met and became friendly with Lionel Keith Murphy. He was an Australian politician and jurist who served as a Senator, and then as the Attorney-General in the government of Gough Whitlam and as a Justice of the High Court of Australia from 1975 until his death in 1986.

Lionel was one of the brightest and most charming men I’ve ever met. He had a ready smile and a twinkle in his eye. He was my kind of guy for a variety of reasons, but most important was how he adored women and had the ability to make the least attractive of them feel like Miss Australia when he spoke to them.

In ’73 or ’74, my office in Sydney sent me clippings of Lionel’s remarks in the Australian Senate decrying the pernicious effects on Australian culture by the telecast of American content. Boy, did he ever attack American television!   Continue reading “What Lionel Murphy Would Say About Donald Trump”