Last week, the president traveled to the Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago to deliver what the White House billed as a major speech on energy. To see what is wrong with the administration as it enters its second term, you could do worse than carefully reading that address.
Despite the speech's "energy" label, the oil and gas boom that is in the process of transforming the United States from a net importer to a net exporter of hydrocarbons rated only one forward-looking sentence. "[W]e'll keep moving on the all-of-the-above energy strategy that we've been working on for the last couple years," the president said, "where we're producing more oil and gas here at home but we're also producing more biofuels, we're also producing more fuel-efficient vehicles; more solar power; more wind power."
That was it. No mention of allowing drillers onto public lands from which they have been excluded throughout the Obama presidency. No mention of allowing construction of the Keystone pipeline, a major step, if it happens, toward fully freeing the nation from dependence on such problematic petroleum suppliers as Venezuela and the Middle East.
Not that he was shy about taking credit for the fracking-driven explosion in American production. Early in the speech, in a list of national accomplishments during his administration, he said, "After years of talking about it, we're finally poised to take control of our energy future. We produce more oil than we have in 15 years. We import less oil than we have in 20 years. ... We're producing more natural gas than we ever have before—with hundreds of thousands of good jobs to show for it. "
Those, by the way, were the only other sentences in the speech to mention development of oil and gas.The rest of the time he talked about reducing national energy consumption and encouraging development of energy sources that are at best problematic and at worst fanciful.
For example, he heaped praise on a federal scientist he characterized as responsible for development of the "rechargeable lithium ion battery for cars." The president was apparently referring to the batteries that power the all-electric Chevy Volt, the car that notoriously costs $40,000 per unit more to build that anyone will pay for it. It is widely assumed that government pressure is the only reason General Motors produces the vehicle.
By the way, the president implied that the research behind the miracle battery was entirely the product of the national laboratory. It was, he suggested, the kind of essential federal activity that would stop if the sequester continues.
And yet, if you scan online profiles and histories, you will see that the scientists widely credited with developing the battery were not at Argonne or any other national laboratory or even U.S. government employees when they performed their breakthrough work. Instead employers like Exxon, Oxford University, the Japanese companies Asahi Kasei and Sony and several American universities should have received the president's praise. But then he would have had to acknowledge that the sequester could have been in place forever and the rechargeable lithium ion battery for cars would still be with us, and just as economically unviable an energy source as it is today.
But here's a thought: Could it be that the president's brushing aside of the only viable short-term sources of American energy—the oil and gas boom—had to do with a story that broke the day before? As Bloomberg reported, Mr. Obama "is preparing to tell all federal agencies for the first time that they should consider the impact on global warming before approving major projects, from pipelines to highways." Bloomberg added, "The result could be significant delays for natural gas-export facilities, ports for coal sales to Asia, and even new forest roads, industry lobbyists warn."
In other words, it looks as though the entire energy address may have been a smokescreen, covering the start of a White House-driven war on American oil and gas production.
And what is the legal authority under which this war on our only currently viable energy sources will be waged? It is a Nixon-era law that requires federal agencies to publish the impact on water, air and soil pollution of their actions. Yet by wide margins Congress has repeatedly rejected classifying greenhouse gases as pollutants under federal law.
So here is how it all adds up: a speech that positions the administration as supporting work it actually opposes and that, to score points in the budget battle, gives a government laboratory credit for what private industry and universities actually achieved; and, as the reality behind the speech, an ideologically-driven policy that runs counter to American economic and national security interests and is pursued without the authority of law.
Thus the Obama administration slouches into its second term.