THE RUN-UP to the 2020 presidential election has not been short on theatrics. From the packed debate stages to the never-ending parade of contenders taking up residence here in New Hampshire, the spectacle is officially underway.
And while the campaign may be long on radical rhetoric, sound policy proposals are a relative scarcity.
Take the candidates’ approach to energy policy. Despite the fact that the United States is at the top of its proverbial energy game — producing record amounts of oil and gas — the proposals in circulation among some 2020 hopefuls lack any grounding in the realities of America’s ability to produce energy resources or the ongoing need to use them.
Rather than making the most of our vast resources, unmatched workforce and leading innovation, candidates are choosing instead to pursue the most quixotic of goals in hope of standing out to early voters. Primary season is traditionally known for bringing out the best in a candidate. It should not justify irresponsible and unrealistic policy.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, for example, bases his entire value proposition on anti-energy soundbites. His most recent proposal calls for a total end of the federal government’s relationship with the oil and gas industry — including a ban on the development of oil and gas resources on public lands and waters and prohibition of crude oil exports. This plan seems counter-intuitive, considering fossil fuels accounted for 80% of U.S. total energy consumption in 2018, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
There’s nothing wrong with ambitious thinking. But ambition that’s rooted purely in political aspirations instead of realism is unproductive at best — and outright damaging at worst.
California serves as an instructive case study. After years of pursuing aggressive anti-energy policy, the state is seemingly getting its wish: oil production is steadily declining. That would be great if the state had managed to cut its consumption at the same time, but that hasn’t been the case. In fact, California is the largest consumer of jet fuel among the 50 states, and the state’s total energy consumption is second-highest in the nation, according to the EIA.
To make matters worse, California refineries largely rely on crude oil from overseas.
According to the California Energy Commission, 57.5% of crude oil supplied to those operations in 2018 came from foreign sources — up from a mere 5.6% in 1982, a statistic that stands in stark contrast to the reduced foreign oil imports happening elsewhere amid the recent surge in domestic production.
In fact, some have pointed out that California now has more crude coming in through the Strait of Hormuz than it produces within its own borders. So-called progressive policies have created both a scarcity issue and a national security concern in one fell swoop.
Inslee is far from the only candidate to tilt at this particular windmill. Joe Biden has issued calls for his own “clean energy revolution” and “environmental justice” plan ringing in at a cost of $5 trillion. And Elizabeth Warren has proposed increasing federal funding for clean-tech research by more than $1.5 trillion at the expense of millions of American oil and gas jobs.
Working towards a sustainable energy future for generations to come is important. But these aren’t serious proposals, and they ignore the inherent strengths of American energy.
Not all that long ago, natural gas was hailed as a “bridge fuel,” a foundation of bipartisan energy policy. In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama argued that natural gas “can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.”
A disconcerting number of today’s candidates and activists, however, seem to have a different view. They fail to recognize the important role natural gas plays in meeting our nation’s energy needs while lowering carbon emissions at the same time.
American natural gas production has reached record highs, decreasing reliance on foreign energy sources, serving as a clean-burning alternative to coal, supporting American jobs and fueling the economy. Gas is also clean, emitting negligible local pollutants and 50% less CO2 emissions than coal.
The good news is that not all Democratic candidates have gone to the far end of the spectrum. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock have adopted much more rational, level-headed approaches that balance energy innovation with maintaining economic growth.
Radical proposals make for a good stump speech, but they don’t always translate to the real world. As the campaign advances, here’s hoping we see more pragmatism and considerably less energy fantasy.