America in lockdown “Dedicated public servants” lock up lands and resources, lock down job and economic recovery
President Obama talks smoothly and often about creating jobs for Americans. However, his anti-hydrocarbon, anti-employment actions and his crony-capitalist subsidized “green” jobs agenda speak far louder than his empty words about putting middle class America back to work.
President Obama insists he is determined to create jobs in America. He recently announced the creation of “promise zones” for five communities around the nation and a “manufacturing institute” aimed at fostering more high-paying jobs in energy efficiency. He’s says he has “a pen and a phone” to “sign executive orders and take executive actions that move the ball,” where Congress has failed to implement policies he believes are needed.
Unfortunately, the executive orders and actions Mr. Obama seems to have in mind will do little to create jobs beyond the Washington Beltway – and much to do the opposite. An obvious example is his EPA’s plan to impose additional carbon dioxide emission restrictions, to save the planet from global warming, climate change, climate disruption, extreme weather or whatever term alarmists are using these days.
Another is to issue regulations and spend billions more to mandate and subsidize expensive energy efficiency, wind and solar, biofuel, alternative-fuel vehicles and other technologies, companies and financing schemes. That is what some “green” energy business leaders recommend in a report that they recently presented to the White House, promoting a “clean energy future.”
These actions will ensure employment for more bureaucrats, blue state friends and campaign contributors. But they will also ensure continued unemployment for blue collar workers and “fly-over country.” They depend on government direction and ideological compatibility, taxpayer subsidies, and crony-corporatist arrangements among businessmen, politicians and regulators.
They will make barely a dent in a chronically feeble economy in which 94 million Americans are not working; four million are long-term unemployed; the 63% labor participation rate is the lowest in 35 years; and many of the employment gains due to a magical government formula that turns 300,000 full-time jobs into 400,000 part-time positions. The President’s proposed actions likewise will not reverse the rapid increase in 49ers – companies that won’t hire more than 49 employees, because that would trigger ObamaCare and a host of other taxes and regulations, causing even more unemployment.
Extending unemployment benefits another 3-6 months, and sending our grandkids the bill, will not soften or reverse this damage. Nor will raising the minimum wage, thereby compelling more companies to automate or find other ways to trim work forces and costs, leaving even more people unemployed. But America does offer countless opportunities for President Obama to use his executive powers to unshackle the US economy, create jobs and generate revenues.
First and foremost, he could instruct his overly zealous Executive Branch agencies to delay, pare back and eliminate regulatory and paperwork burdens. Far too many of those rules are justified only by anti-hydrocarbon ideologies, computer models, cherry-picked studies that do not reflect genuine mainstream science or medicine, and even illegal experiments on human test subjects.
The Heritage Foundation calculates that the EPA alone has promulgated more than 1,920 regulations over the past five years, including twenty “major” rules that are costing the United States more than $36 billion annually. The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s latest “10,000 Commandments” report says the total federal regulatory burden on America’s businesses and families now exceeds $1.8 trillion per year!
$379 billion of that is for environmental rules that often bring dubious benefits, and frequently impose human health and welfare costs well in excess of any supposed improvements. For example, EPA itself admitted that it was unable to quantify any direct health benefits from its costly utility “air toxics” MACT rule – and a January 2014 analysis demonstrates that the health and societal benefits of using oil, natural gas and coal outweigh any alleged “social costs of carbon” by at least 50 and as much as 500 to one.
President Obama could certainly order the issuance of permits to build the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline, and instantly create thousands of jobs. He could also order the EPA, Interior Department, Forest Service and other federal agencies to unlock the lands and resources that are now off-limits.
The President brags that “we produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years.” Indeed, domestic production rose from 5.6 million barrels per day in 2011 to 6.4 million bopd in 2012. However, production from federal onshore and offshore areas has fallen significantly under his watch – and 96% of the production increase was on state and private lands.
That is unnecessary and contrary to the public interest. America’s federal lands – onshore and offshore, in Alaska and our eleven westernmost Lower 48 States – contain numerous oil, gas, propane, coal, rare earth and other mineral deposits. Many have already been delineated, while others await discovery and development via modern, ecologically sensitive prospecting and production technologies. However, the vast majority of these resources are off limits: officially locked up in restrictive land use categories (some of which should not be changed) or simply made unavailable by bureaucratic fiat and foot-dragging.
Technically recoverable energy resources on these onshore and offshore lands total 1,194 billion barrels of oil and 2,150 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, Institute for Energy Research analyst Daniel Simmons noted in congressional testimony. At $100 per barrel of oil and $4 per thousand cubic feet of gas, those resources are worth $128 trillion! Developing them could generate some $150 billion in bonuses, rents and royalties over the next ten years alone – plus billions more in local, state and federal tax revenues, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Using those CBO numbers, an IER study concluded:
If the government made more of these areas available for exploration and production, America’s GDP could increase by $127 billion annually for the next seven years, and $450 billion annually in the long term. Those activities would create 552,000 jobs annually over the next seven years, with annual wage increases of up to $32 billion, hugely benefitting workers’ and families’ health and welfare.
Over the next 37 years, opening these lands would also increase America’s cumulative economic activity by up to $14.4 trillion … employment by 1.9 million jobs per year … wages by $115 billion annually … and local, state and federal royalty and tax revenues by a cumulative $3.8 trillion!
However, Simmons points out, the Interior Department has leased only a paltry 2% of federal offshore areas and less than 6% of onshore lands for oil and gas development. It has also stalled endlessly on issuing permits to drill on lands it has leased, in areas that are supposed to be available for multiple use and energy development. Its Bureau of Land Management’s proposed regulations for hydraulic fracturing on public lands will likely delay, block and lock down the many benefits associated with fracking.
Access to metals and minerals on public lands is likewise subject to “bureaucratic discretion.” America’s “dedicated public servants” are thwarting development of Alaska’s Pebble Mine gold, copper and molybdenum deposit; Montana’s Finley Basin tungsten, copper, gold, silver and molybdenum deposit; and Arizona’s Rosemont Copper project – all of which would generate thousands of jobs and billions in payrolls and government revenues. Meanwhile they are fast-tracking permits for bird and bat butchering wind turbines – and considering 30-year eagle-killing permits for the installations.
In conducting these energy and mineral exploration and development projects, we can and must protect human health and environmental quality – from genuine threats, not speculative, exaggerated or computer scenario risks. We cannot afford to keep our lands, resources, jobs and revenues under lock and key.
If President Obama really does care about creating jobs and opportunities for the middle class, he will think and act outside of his ideological box, and pay less attention to his most rabid environmentalist base. We will know soon whether he is capable of doing that – and what kinds of executive orders and actions he really has in mind to move the ball on job creation. (I'm not holding my breath.)
Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of many articles on energy and the environment. He has degrees in sciences and environmental law.