When it comes to determining how best to meet our future energy needs, there are no Republican solutions, nor Democratic solutions. That’s why I believe leveraging the presidential election to turn U.S. energy policy into the latest political football is bad for America.
Consider the current debate on natural gas. Republicans recently tried to paint the Obama administration as opponents of the fuel. They cited the Department of Energy’s recent delay of a report on the economics of exporting natural gas, which was pushed back from a March 2012 release date, because of complexities in #$%$ing the global natural-gas marketplace. It’s now going to be released after the election, and Republicans say it’s an attempt to punt the debate.
Yet, what Republicans conveniently ignore is that the Obama administration’s new power plant rules are crafted in a way that ensure all new facilities will run on natural gas, not coal or even alternative energy sources. While such a mandate may bring unintended consequences and needs to be closely examined, suggesting President Obama is against natural gas doesn’t pass the smell test.
This is precisely the kind of election-year stunt that undermines earnest attempts to develop energy proposals, on which both parties should be able to agree. Americans deserve better.
In this election year, both Democrats and Republicans proclaim to support plans that include a wide mix on energy sources. You just have to drive by a gas station and see the ever-increasing price for a gallon of gas to realize that our current dependence on foreign oil is bad for our wallet, not to mention a myopic foreign policy. Electricity bills are on the rise as well.
Most Democrats want natural gas to be part of our energy solution, but don’t want to put all of our eggs in that basket. Those of us who were on the front lines in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita saw firsthand just how volatile natural gas costs can be. As natural gas prices reached record highs, it was clear that we needed a diversified energy portfolio to keep America powered.
The best approach is one that galvanizes numerous industries to develop scenarios, and then to #$%$ all based on their price, viability and environmental impact. The fact remains that no one single fuel is perfect (even natural gas), and that all energy sources bring certain risks and rewards.
But there is a right way and a wrong way to determine which products are best for American families, the environment and our economy. The right way is to allow energy producers to develop their products in the open market. The wrong way, and the one we have seen too often in recent months, is to insert political pressure and try to paint one solution as the only way to move our country away from our dependence on foreign energy.
To put it more simply: We cannot solve our energy problems based on the prevailing political winds. If government creates policies that give one industry a distinct advantage over another, the end result will be an inferior product at a higher price.
I marveled the other day at all of the people standing in front of the Apple store, waiting for the new iPhone. Apple has created products that fit a specific societal need and has become very rich in the process. It didn’t need a government advantage to beat its competition. Apple was driven by the concept of building something that would make people want its specific product, even at a premium.
When the marketplace puts companies — whether they make electronics or energy — on a level playing field, it motivates everyone to strive for success. When one company, or one product, is given an advantage — either through subsidies, decreased regulation or governmental mandates — innovation is stifled.
Natural gas should be part of the solution to our energy crisis, and I look forward to the DOE’s #$%$ment of the impact gas exports will have on pricing. But, our federal government must also support efforts to ensure we can honestly #$%$ which energy solution best fits our needs. That means doing the things that help all fuel sources thrive, from issuing more oil drilling permits for the Gulf of Mexico, to encouraging the private sector to better harness the potential of renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
If we do the right things to boost all technologies, the end result is likely to be increased marketplace competition, which equates to more jobs, better products and competitive pricing. But, when we inject partisan politics into the mix, we create an environment in which the deck is stacked. And, at the end of the day, it is virtually impossible for the best products to win.
A presidential election is a time to think big, and it is encouraging to see all sides wanting to move ahead with energy projects based right here at home. So let’s agree that we’re in agreement, and not politicize a topic that is so vital to our future.
Charlie Melancon, a Democrat from Louisiana, served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2005 to 2011. He was a member of the Energy & Commerce Committee.