- - Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Energy, the lifeblood of the economy, is President Obama’s Achilles heel. Mitt Romney should hit him hard, spelling out a coherent policy of low-cost, secure energy that would boost the U.S. economy, ensure jobs and prosperity, and raise people up from poverty. He should pledge specific goals: lower gasoline prices, cheaper household electricity, cheaper fertilizer for farmers and lower food prices for everybody, cheaper transport fuels for aviation and for trucking, and lower raw-material costs for the chemical industry.

Obama has made it easy for Romney

It’s a winning situation for Mr. Romney - Mr. Obama already has provided him most of the ammunition:

Under Mr. Obama, the price of gasoline has more than doubled, from $1.80 a gallon. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu wanted the price to rise to “European levels of $8 to $10.”

He vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have brought much-needed, secure oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries and created “shovel-ready” jobs.

He has kept much federal land off-limits for oil and gas production - particularly in Alaska and offshore.

Even where exploration is permitted, drilling permits face bureaucratic opposition.

In his 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama promised that electricity prices would “skyrocket.” He kept his promise - with help from the misguided Renewable Electricity Standard, which forces utilities to buy costly “green” power from solar/wind projects.

Mr. Obama also promised that coal-fired electric plants would go “bankrupt” - thanks to extreme, onerous regulations. The latest Environmental Protection Agency plan stops new construction by setting impossible-to-obtain emission limits for carbon dioxide. EPA likely will use the CO2 excuse to close down existing coal-fired plants - and may even prevent construction of power plants fired by natural gas (as the California Public Utilities Commission has decided).

One already can see signs of impending EPA efforts to stop exploitation of shale gas, claiming that “fracking” causes water pollution.

The Obama administration from top to bottom seems possessed by pathological fear of catastrophic climate change and obsessed with the idea that no matter what happens to the economy or jobs, it must stop emission of carbon dioxide.

What Romney must do to win the November election

Mr. Romney can confidently promise to reduce the price of gasoline to $2.50 a gallon. The world price of oil would have to fall below $60 a barrel from its present $90. That’s entirely possible because the low price of natural gas - down to $2 per 1,000 cubic feet from its 2008 peak of $13 - is helping relieve demand for oil. Many wells also produce high-value oil and natural gas liquids, so natural gas becomes a byproduct that can be profitably sold at even lower prices.

Natural gas currently sells for less than 15 percent of the average price of crude oil, on an energy per British thermal unit basis. It pays to replace oil-based fuels, such as diesel and gasoline, with either liquefied natural gas or compressed natural gas - for heavy road vehicles, earth movers, diesel-electric trains, buses and fleet vehicles. Lower prices also make it profitable to convert natural gas directly to gasoline or diesel. Direct conversion would use the existing distribution infrastructure; the technology is proven and commercially feasible. Forget about methanol, hydrogen and other exotics.

At present, 60 percent of all imported energy expenditures are for oil. The U.S. can become not only energy-independent but even an exporter of fuels - with a huge improvement in balance of payments.

Mr. Romney can confidently promise that he will cut the price of electricity in half - not only through low-priced natural gas but also by the much higher efficiency of gas-fired power plants. They can easily reach 60 percent efficiency or more, compared to the present 35 percent to 40 percent for nuclear or coal-fired plants. Higher efficiencies reduce not only the cost of fuel per kilowatt hour but effectively lower the capital cost per kilowatt.

Even greater efficiencies are possible if such plants are located in urban centers. “Co-generation” would use the heat normally discharged into the environment (and wasted) for hot water, space heating and many other applications. Such “distributed generation” also improves security against terrorism and simplifies disposal of waste heat.

Low-cost natural gas also produces cheap fertilizer for farmers, thus lowering food prices, and feedstock for chemical plants, for cheaper plastics and other basic materials. Industries can now return to the United States and provide jobs locally.

To win election, Mr. Romney must convey this optimistic outlook to the voting public.

S. Fred Singer is professor emeritus at the University of Virginia and director of the Science & Environmental Policy Project. An expanded version of this commentary can be found on americanthinker.com.