Governor Jindal on "Making America an Energy Superpower"

About six months ago, America Next – the policy shop fronted by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal – published an ObamaCare repeal plan.  Now they’ve produced an ambitious energy agenda called “Organizing Around Abundance: Making America an Energy Superpower,” which Governor Jindal hosted a conference call to discuss on Tuesday.

The thesis of this plan, which sounds very compatible with the energy platform Texas Governor Rick Perry ran on in 2012, is that bad policy under the Obama Administration is holding us back from an energy boom that would power a resurgence in every area of the economy, from consumer costs to job creation.  “We’ve got an incredible opportunity here in America,” said Governor Jindal,  “We are poised to become an energy superpower.”

Realizing that promise requires a more sustained effort to develop oil, coal, natural gas, and nuclear power resources.  The possibilities are staggering.  When he described the energy resources available to us, Jindal noted that a listener who didn’t know he was referring to America might think he was describing Saudi Arabia, or perhaps the entire Middle East.  As one of the Organizing Around Abundance plan’s six core principles states, true energy independence would reinforce national security by reducing our need to get involved in the turbulent politics of the world’s other energy-producing regions, and reduce the ability of hostile powers to use the “oil weapon’ against us.

We can do a lot more than just become energy independent.  Jindal’s plan envisions making the United States a major exporter, particularly when it comes to natural gas.  “American produces so much clean- burning natural gas that energy companies find it increasingly less profitable to tap our natural gas resources,” the plan document states.  “However, global demand for natural gas remains sufficiently high that natural gas exports can benefit the American economy the way oil exports benefit OPEC nations.”

Not only is that good for the American economy, but it could give European countries an alternative to dealing with certain aggressive regimes that currently enjoy far too much economic leverage over them.  “Nations like Georgia, Belarus, and Ukraine have repeatedly faced Russian threats to withhold natural gas exports if those nations did not make foreign
policy concessions to Moscow,” the plan observes.  “Russia has cut-off gas supplies to the Ukraine three times in the past eight years???twice during winter months.  Removing barriers to American natural gas exports provides the simultaneous benefits of strengthening our economy and peacefully strengthening our allies??? energy security.”

Jindal noted that the Obama Administration has generally been able to spin its way out of political accountability for its hostility to energy production, and its ideologically-driven insistence on pouring vast sums into Solyndra-style green energy debacles.  “When it comes to energy policy, the Obama Administration is best described as ‘science deniers,'” he said, charging that getting the American public to accept higher prices means making them comfortable with less freedom, and gives them lower expectations for government.  “They’ve re-defined the American Dream so that 2 percent growth is the New Normal… they want to make us more like Europe.”

The Organizing Around Abundance plan summarizes Obama energy policy as follows:

1. Make energy cost more for consumers so they will use less of it;

2. Over-regulate forms of energy the radical Left opposes – specifically fossil fuels – in hopes of bankrupting the industries that produce them;

3. Use tax dollars to fund unproven and untested projects favored by the radical Left; and

4. Ignore facts based on science and economic data in favor of idealistic – and unrealistic – left-wing ideology.

None of those goals is a particularly well-kept secret; point number one has been explicitly blurted out at various times by members of the Administration, and Obama himself is infamous for vowing to drive the coal industry out of business.  It’s not hard to imagine an alternative strategy based on reversing those goals, none of which is popular with the American people, although the media hierarchy is another story.

Everybody claims their economic proposals will create jobs, including the President who has been singularly failing to do so for six years.  (He deals with that by instructing his followers to ignore everything that has actually happened and pretend the economy has been on some kind of epic job-creating boom under his wise stewardship.  It’s a mark of the reduced expectations and lowered standards Jindal mentioned that a substantial number of Americans fall for it.  It helps Obama that most people don’t understand the relationship between the headline-grabbing unemployment rate and the overall size of the active workforce.)  The energy-boom strategy Jindal is touting has considerable evidence to back up its job-creation claims, including a fairly tight correlation between rising oil prices and rising unemployment – a relationship that remains in effect under virtually every economic policy that has been implemented over the past four decades.  So why not focus on getting energy costs down, and bring unemployment down with it?

What Jindal envisions is a burst of both production and consumption as energy costs decline, since energy prices affect the cost of virtually everything else.  As his plan puts it:

Affordable, stable energy prices mean more money in people???s pockets, allowing Americans access to better housing, nutrition, education, health care, environmental protections, and other consumer goods and services. This in turn stimulates local economies across the nation, creating additional jobs throughout the economy. From caterers and hotels that benefit from increased travel and tourism, to tug boat owners whose business increases from higher shipping traffic, to equipment manufacturers and hardware stores selling more supplies, abundant, affordable energy can drive prosperity, job creation, and a rising standard of living across myriad sectors of the American economy.

And when we talk about jobs created by affordable energy, we don???t mean just ???energy jobs??? or the ???green jobs??? so beloved by the Left.  While we welcome and encourage the growth in jobs in emerging energy technologies and services, we understand that a truly sustainable job is one that does not rely on taxpayer subsidies to be sustainable. If higher priced forms of energy make up too large a part of our portfolio – more than is justified by a financial need for predictability of cost and diversity of supply – it can be a job killer, not a job creator.

Jindal was careful to say that energy prices by themselves are not an all-powerful silver bullet for economic malaise.  In combination with sensible tax reforms, affordable energy could go a long way toward making America competitive in the world economy, especially in the important manufacturing sector.  That’s the difference between Obama’s cooked job reports, which instruct Americans to celebrate trading 100,000 full-time career positions for 250,000 part-time burger-flipping jobs and call it “growth,” and a real economic recovery that wouldn’t require electron microscopes to detect.  The kind of job growth that comes with abundant energy and revitalized manufacturing gives young people fresh out of high school a chance at earning six figures before they hit 30.  That beats the hell out of Obama’s America, where college graduates with six figures in student loan debt are pleading for a higher minimum wage.

The first five principles of Jindal’s plan offer sound encouragement to promote responsible development of domestic energy resources, encourage technological innovations, revitalize manufacturing, slash the regulatory burden of Big Government, and enhance national security.  Number Six is where the Governor and his group venture onto a bit of shaky ground, as they call for “simple, tangible steps to address the possible risks of climate change, in concert with other major economies.”

This chapter of the plan is a very delicate fusion of skepticism and wary respect for the pop-culture power of the climate change movement, which remains very influential despite the absolute failure of its vaunted models to accurately predict anything.  In the conference call, Jindal was disdainful of the influence Hollywood celebrities have on energy and environmental issues, especially when they throw their weight behind pet projects like the anti-fracking crusade.  “Climate change” is the mother of all celebrity environmental causes, and it sounds like Jindal wants to carefully disarm its more extreme supporters, while warily respecting the amount of influence they retain in Washington and the media.

The relevant chapter of the Organizing Around Abundance plan casts a skeptical eye over those failed global-warming computer models, notes that “global warming has become a religion for many on the Left,” and points out that anti-capitalism is a major sacrament of that religion.  But then it tentatively supports the idea of implementing some climate-change policies, particularly those involving the development of new technologies, after sober assessments of the cost to American business and consumers have been made… and only if other countries are taking equivalent steps to manage their own carbon footprints.  In particular, the plan calls for withdrawing immediately and unilaterally from the Kyoto protocols, which have been “deeply divisive accords that have undermined American sovereignty, trapping the entire climate change debate in a cul-de-sac of liberal wishful thinking.”  That all sounds like a bit of a poison pill for the Church of Global Warming, since other countries never agree to the kind of ritual economic suicide they impose on the developed nations of the West, and they’re never going to support dismantling the trans-national organs created to push climate-change orthodoxy.

I asked Governor Jindal how his proposals could be advanced against the current Administration, which is fond of claiming that it’s been creating tons of energy, billions of jobs, and a great economic recovery.  I also pointed out that Obama’s team apparently believes they’ve taken the political hit for blocking the Keystone XL pipeline and survived, so while building that pipeline is a major feature of Jindal’s plan, it’s not something the Obama Administration feels a great deal of pressure to get done.

The Governor replied that he sees two major sources of political pressure for the Administration: the under-performing economy, which, contrary to Administration rhetoric, has been disappointing enough to stir up some trouble with Democrats’ labor union allies, and the concerns of middle-class workers, who simply are not buying the happy talk about a recovery they cannot perceive.  “Increase median household income by just seven percent with lower energy prices, and it would create millions of jobs,” he said, going on to suggest that middle-class taxpayers should welcome a job-creation strategy that doesn’t involve running up more national debt or placing a heavier burden on taxpayers.

I suspect those pressures he mentioned might become particularly acute during the 2016 presidential race.  Lame-duck Presidents are mostly interested in managing public discontent, but new candidates need to get people excited in a positive way.  “The good news for America is, we’re on the verge of an energy Renaissance, but it’s not inevitable,” said Governor Jindal, who might just be one of the presidential candidates looking to generate positive excitement in a couple of years.  Voters will be eager to hear that prosperity is in sight.  It’s going to take a lot of gas to get there from here.