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JOHNSON: Energy Independence Day

Americans should declare freedom from foreign oil and gas

- - Thursday, July 3, 2014

Two-hundred-and-thirty-eight years ago, our Founding Fathers declared America's independence from the heavy hand of King George III and Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence set off a chain reaction of events that have given Americans unparalleled freedom and prosperity. Despite America's still-sluggish economy, we have the highest standard of living — the highest quality of life — that the world has ever seen. We can do better, though, and now we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to seize our energy independence.

In 2014, America is dependent on other nations to meet our energy needs, but we need not be. For too long, we've had to rely on OPEC and the whims of Third World dictators to put gas in our cars and to keep the engines of our economy running smoothly. We watch Vladimir Putin's Russia, one of our top rivals, use its energy as a strategic weapon in the Ukraine, and we've seen him use it as an economic weapon in Eastern Europe against our allies, who must resort to buying Russian natural gas to heat their homes in the winter. Thus far, America has been unable to offer our allies an alternative.

Now we have a choice. The United States is a global superpower in terms of oil and natural-gas production — we're competitive with Saudi Arabia and Russia. This remarkable shift has happened not because of government policies, but despite them. Primarily, this dramatic turnaround has occurred because of innovation advancing technology in getting oil and natural gas out of shale formations that are plentiful in the United States, including large quantities in eastern and southeastern Ohio's Utica and Marcellus shale plays. As our production has gone up (we pump about 10.3 million barrels of oil a day, compared with Russia at 10.8 million and Saudi Arabia at 11.7 million), our imports have gone down. We buy 32 percent less natural gas and 15 percent less oil from other nations than we did five short years ago.

We can and should be doing better, though. The vast majority of the increase in America's oil and natural-gas production is happening on private lands. In fact, a study by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found that under the Obama administration, oil production on federal lands has actually fallen by 6 percent, while increasing by 61 percent on state and private lands. This administration's hostility toward traditional fuels comes as no surprise. President Obama has gone out of his way, through regulation, to hurt both the supply and demand sides of the coal industry, living up to his threat that "if someone wants to build a new coal-fired power plant they can, but it'll bankrupt them." Under our current president, America has no national energy policy — and no pathway to independence.

In the absence of leadership from the White House and the Senate, the House of Representatives has taken action. Last week, the House passed three important pieces of legislation, with my support, that begin putting America on a path toward energy independence.

The Lowering Gasoline Prices to Fuel an America that Works Act: Under Mr. Obama, the average price of gasoline has increased to $3.68 — double what it was when he first took office. The legislation would expand production of our energy resources by opening up areas offshore currently restricted by the Obama administration. Opening up these areas could generate more than $1 billion in new revenue, and create an estimated 1.2 million jobs, all while easing the squeeze at the gas pump.

The Domestic Prosperity and Global Freedom Act: Owing to America's historic increase in natural-gas production in places like eastern and southeastern Ohio, America has the opportunity to realize economic and geopolitical benefits. In Ohio alone, the American Petroleum Institute estimates, more than 30,000 jobs will be created as a result of liquefied natural-gas exports, and more than 665,000 jobs could be created nationwide by 2035. The only thing standing in the way is Mr. Obama's Department of Energy, currently sitting on more than 20 liquefied natural-gas export permits. This legislation would expedite the approval process for export permits.

The North American Energy Infrastructure Act: The Keystone XL pipeline, which would create tens of thousands of American jobs, has been delayed by this administration for nearly six years. This common-sense legislation would modernize the cross-border pipeline approval process and require submissions to be approved within 120 days.

This Independence Day, it's time for Americans to start thinking about another kind of independence — energy independence — and demand that Washington take action to reach that goal. In a country blessed with so much oil, natural gas and coal, nuclear energy and hydropower, and with the potential that renewable fuels provide, we can do this. It is a choice. Mr. Obama clearly thinks either America can't or shouldn't be energy independent. I fundamentally disagree, and I think that if we choose energy independence, we'll open up a new horizon of American exceptionalism that we haven't seen in decades: new industries, more innovation, more jobs, and more freedom, prosperity and choices for all hardworking American families.

Rep. Bill Johnson, Ohio Republican, serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.