Andy BeckMonday, December 22, 2014
On a gloomy December morning, I headed up to Capitol Hill for an energized discussion. The event happened in the newly renovated Capitol Visitors Center where Our Energy Policy hosted a discussion titled, “Abundance or Scarcity? Re-examining U.S. Oil and Gas Policy.” For anyone that keeps up with domestic energy trends, the answer to that question is quite apparent—the United States is in the middle of a full-blown energy renaissance thanks to the recent shale gas boom, thanks in large part to the practice of fracking. But the panel was stacked, so the insights and takeaways were still very thorough.
After introductory remarks from Bill Squadron, President of OurEnergyPolicy.org, and opening remarks from two Texas Congressmen from either side of the aisle, Wall Street Journal D.C. energy reporter and event moderator Amy Harder welcomed the esteemed panel. Panelists included: Karen Harbert, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy; Steven Rattner, Chairman of Willet Advisors LLC; Elgie Holstein, Senior Director for Strategic Planning at Environment Defense Fund; and Joe Cannon, President and CEO for the Fuel Freedom Foundation.
Ms. Harbert from the US Chamber was adamant that we needed to enact new policies that will encourage further growth in our energy sector. These included lifting the ban on some offshore drilling as well as the ban on oil exports. One strong point she made was that the energy argument does not need to be compartmentalized into environmentalists versus energy hawks. “The American people look at this issue through their pocketbooks, and now with 31 states producing energy, the economic benefits can be seen everywhere.”
Steve Rattner, best known as the overseer of Michael Bloomberg’s investments, also acknowledged that lower prices at the pump were helping the American people see energy differently. But he pivoted those lower prices by saying that, “There hasn’t been a better time than now to institute a carbon tax, as well as higher gasoline and diesel taxes.” Mr. Rattner suggested that these new taxes could be allocated to our depleted highway trust fund, which is used to rebuild our country’s aging roads and bridges. Clearly a utopian suggestion, but most folks that watch Congress know nothing like this will happen anytime soon.
Elgie Holstein from the Environmental Defense Fund was surprisingly cool, calm and collective at this oil and gas discussion. “Is fossil fuel abundance hurting our push for renewable energy? That isn’t 100% true. We just always need to keep an eye on the prize of efficiency, sustainability and climate change, no matter what current production levels are for fossil fuels.” This attitude for a diversified, all-of-the-above approach to fuel sources is really the key in our quest for a more sustainable energy mix.
Joe Cannon, the President and CEO for the Fuel Freedom Foundation, admittedly brought a narrowed perspective to the event. His group focuses almost exclusively on transportation fuel. So what was his main point to make? “We need policies that leverage our abundance of natural gas and introduce it into the transportation marketplace. This will take innovation, investment and infrastructure but we need to take advantage of cheap BTU’s to spur growth.” One quote I specifically remember from Mr. Cannon was that he explained energy “as the only shadowed area of the Red & Blue political Venn diagram.” Too true.
Most folks can agree that wind and solar present a cleaner fuel option, but renewables still only account for ~8% of electricity production in the US. We can only encourage and sustain growth in our economy with a broad energy mix. So as the 114th Congress moves into their new offices and begin working on legislation in the New Year, we’ll see what they do to re-examine our country’s oil and gas policy. Some reports already claim that the first bill up in the Senate will be a vote on the Keystone XL pipeline—a well-known proposal that gets most Americans riled up no matter what side you’re on. Stay tuned.