- The Washington Times - Monday, April 5, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Nearly 30 years ago, Congress imposed a moratorium on the safe and environmentally sound practice of offshore oil and natural-gas exploration. In the early 1990s, President George H.W. Bush imposed a similar ban in the form of an executive order. And while this ban was in place for decades, many in Congress and the public at large had no idea that the United States was the only country in the industrialized world purposely embargoing its own energy resources.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2008: Oil was $150 a barrel, the price at the pump exceeded $4 a gallon, and the American people - of all political stripes - were genuinely outraged. In response, the Democrat-controlled Congress and President George W. Bush retired both the congressional and executive bans on offshore oil and natural-gas production. That move effectively opened nearly the entire Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) for responsible energy production.

Now fast-forward to March 2010: President Obama announced that he, for the first time, is opening new lands in the OCS for energy exploration. You might be scratching your head at this point, because many energy-industry leaders, newspaper reporters, cable news pundits, lawmakers and politicos applauded the president’s announcement as some major policy breakthrough and the White House’s willingness to compromise on energy policy. However, the announcement, along with the president’s sudden eagerness to trade his proposed national energy tax for increased oil and natural-gas drilling, is nothing more than political theater.

Enter reality. Mr. Obama did not open anything. In fact, he locked up vast amounts of energy reserves. In March, as it has been for nearly two years, almost all of the OCS was open. Now, in April, the entire West Coast, the North Atlantic and portions of Alaska are off-limits.

The president’s speech did not move this nation any closer to creating the 1.2 million jobs that development of the OCS would make possible. The president did not move us any closer to producing more domestic oil and natural gas. And he certainly didn’t move us any closer to reaping the benefits of affordable, reliable energy - including the trillions of dollars increased exploration and production would add to the government’s ever-dwindling coffers through the collection of increased royalties and tax revenues.

What the President did do was delay a scheduled lease sale off the Virginia OCS from 2011 to 2012. He also locked up areas that hold a resources potential of up to 77 billion barrels of oil - more oil than the entire Russian reserve and three times as much as the current U.S. recoverable reserves.

The administration claims Mr. Obama is opening up the Atlantic coast from Delaware to Georgia for exploration. But further examination of his actions - in direct contrast to his words - shows that he only announced a study of this area for potential offshore leasing many years down the road.

More offshore exploration and production would create upward of 1.2 million jobs and nearly $70 billion in annual wages. The president knows this and said as much in his speech. He clearly understands that more than two-thirds of the American people support offshore exploration, that it would create good-paying jobs and make our nation more secure and economically competitive. That’s why he is going to great lengths to appear to support more offshore exploration and production, while in reality, his administration has done everything in its power to deny Americans access to the energy that rightfully belongs to them.

So, one may ask, why all the hype and fanfare? We have a little inkling as to the goal of this particular stage show.

Many readers of this page are acutely aware of the various cap-and-trade proposals moving through the Senate in an attempt to levy a tax on coal, natural gas and oil, which provide us with 85 percent of our energy needs. Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, has been leading the charge to “price carbon,” while others, with the backing of some big oil companies, recently have advocated for an increase in the gasoline tax. Could the president’s announcement last week have been designed to appease both camps and finally move cap-and-trade through the Senate?

When Mr. Graham took to the pages of the New York Times with Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, to outline their plan for global-warming legislation in the Senate, they made mention of a “comprehensive” approach, defined as a package to include increased nuclear power and offshore oil and natural-gas drilling.

Just a few weeks ago, on Feb. 16, Mr. Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that the administration would award $8.3 billion taxpayer-backed loan guarantees to build two new nuclear reactors in Georgia. At face value, this announcement was a nod toward increased nuclear-energy production and, of course, the mainstream media reported it as being a bold step toward compromise to the all-of-the-above approach being advanced by the Republican leadership. And yet, just days before the announced taxpayer-funded nuclear giveaway, the administration zeroed out funding for the creation of a nuclear-waste repository in Yucca Mountain. Never mind the glaring policy contradiction here and the virtual guarantee of the status quo on nuclear-power production as a result.

So there you have it. In two carefully crafted stage performances on nuclear and offshore oil and gas production, the president just may have provided his allies with enough political cover finally to move cap-and-trade through the Senate and impose a national energy tax on an unwilling American public.

Thomas J. Pyle is president of the Institute for Energy Research and American Energy Alliance.

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