A Conservative Energy Policy

When Ronald Reagan accepted his party’s nomination in 1980, he said that America’s energy policy was based on the sharing of scarcity, and that our great nation had to get to work producing more energy.

“Large amounts of oil and natural gas lay beneath our land and off our shores, untouched because the present administration seems to believe the American people would rather see more regulation, taxes and controls than more energy, he said.  “It must not be thwarted by a tiny minority opposed to economic growth which often finds friendly ears in regulatory agencies for its obstructionist campaigns.”

When Ronald Reagan spoke these words he was describing President Jimmy Carter’s disastrous policies that ransacked family budgets, cost jobs and robbed Americans of hope.  They could just as easily be spoken today about the Bush Administration, the Congress, and the candidates vying to become president this election year.  On the energy front, it seems, the classically successful principles of less government and more self-initiative been replaced by a myth of resource scarcity and helplessness. Government now, as then, has created a massive energy problem.  And now, as then, it wants people to believe it also has the solution.  Well, as Reagan put it, “government is not the solution to the problem; government is the problem.”  

On January 1, 1970, Richard Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which allowed the federal government – or a liberal judge – to veto or delay indefinitely any energy project of any kind.  Coincidentally, 1970 was the year when America produced the most oil in its history and imported only 12 percent of its needs.

Nearly a decade later to the day, President Jimmy Carter Jimmy Carter signed the Alaska Lands Act, the law that closed ANWR and – in one fell swoop – took more taxpayer -owned government lands out of our energy resource portfolio than any other time in history.  It was the fitting and symbolic end of the decade that set us on the course for the energy collision we face today.  U.S. dependence on foreign sources of oil had reached 40 percent.

The list of laws enacted in between are on are an alphabet soup of government activism that continues to restrict our access to American energy today.  They include the Clean Air Act of 1970 (CAA); the Clean Water Act of 1972 (CWA); the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 (CZMA); and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA), just to name a few.   

And while everyone wants to save animals from extinction, breathe clean air, drink clean water and avoid toxic substances, these laws and their successors have been used by opponents of U.S. energy production as a means to an end  — to stop domestic production of our economy’s lifeblood and promote scarcity.  

Ronald Reagan initially made some progress against energy suicide of the 1980’s by using the tools he had to reduce regulations and direct more energy development on taxpayer-owned federal lands.  But the Congress struck back, and in 1982, added a rider to a spending bill that prohibited energy leasing on 85% of the outer continental shelf surrounding the lower 48 states.  

For the twenty-six years since, Congress has voted each year, every year, to continue these bans and continue our dependency on foreign oil.  And, to burnish his kinder, gentler credentials, President George H.W. Bush imposed his own moratorium in 1990, which President Clinton extended until 2012, and which President George W. Bush has yet to repeal, despite the looming promise of economic ruin for families caused by our energy supply imbalance.  Today, America remains the only developed country in the world that shoots itself in the foot in such fashion.

In 1987, when President Reagan asked Congress to open ANWR along with a required report showing that it could be done safely and help supply 1 million barrels per day, Congress ignored him, and instead expanded the amount of wilderness in the US greatly, taking even more lands away from energy production. Congress did finally pass a bill to open a small piece of ANWR in 1995, but President Clinton vetoed it.  

America is the Saudi Arabia of oil shale deposits.  With the 2 trillion barrels of oil we could extract, the US could run for 250 years on that source alone.  Unfortunately, the best deposits lie under nationalized lands in the West, and the Congress passed a law in 2007 making it illegal to lease the lands for energy development.  

Ditto for our coal resources; the US the Saudi Arabia of coal.  Last year, Hollywood’s Henry Waxman slipped a provision into law that will block government – the biggest single user of energy – from buying any alternative fuels made from coal.  Germany ran its war machine on the stuff throughout WWII, and South Africa has been making coal into substitute petroleum for decades.  We could too, but for our government.

Today, America only uses 3% of its offshore areas to produce energy, and only 6% of government lands onshore. The US now imports more oil than ever, produces less oil than it did before WWII, and is sending over half a trillion dollars a year to a lot of people who don’t like what our country stands for. 

Ronald Reagan’s stand that our nation’s future “should not be thwarted by a tiny minority opposed to economic growth.” Is as true today as it was when he uttered it 28 years ago.  That tiny minority has hidden their agenda behind the environment movement and thus grown to control our nation’s energy decisions made in Washington, and it shows in every American’s energy bill.

With gasoline prices and utility bills finally awakening the Sleeping Giant of the American people, the creators of the current US energy mess are pointing their fingers here…there…and everywhere. 

They say “we can’t drill our way to cheaper gasoline” to hide the fact that they won’t let anyone drill here in the US.  They argue adding 70,000 barrels of oil per day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve – sequestered from use – will help lower prices at the pump but Ronald Reagan’s 1987 recommendation to open ANWR’s million barrels per day will not.  

They pass bills to enable suits against OPEC for withholding supplies, while their congressional websites brim with press releases about how they voted to stop energy in Alaska, in our OCS, in the Rocky Mountains or wherever some group that objects to more American energy production objects to more American energy production. 

Here’s the truth Ronald Reagan understood but Washington’s central planners don’t want you to know about:  God blessed North America with huge energy resources, probably rivaling those of any other continent.  Free the American people to use their brains, technology and hard work to access the energy that government has put off limits.

Let’s actually make it economically attractive to produce energy at home.  Legalize the coal, oil shale, oil sands, methane hydrates (a frozen natural gas that dwarfs all other energy resources on earth), uranium, hydropower and all of the exotic alternative energy potential we have, and get off the backs of all the people whose job it is to supply this country with the energy that provides us the capacity do work.  Americans will respond and go to work putting America to work.  We will produce energy…a lot more energy.  The result will be enough of our own energy to keep the lights burning in the Shining City on a Hill for a long, long time.