New Congress has an Energy Mandate



When the new Congress convenes this month, lawmakers should remember that energy won the election. While the economy may have been voters’ primary concern, energy issues played a key role, especially in the states that gave Republicans control of the Senate.

It’s a message that those newly elected senators, all of whom stressed their support for expanding energy development, aren’t likely to forget. And it’s one that Senate Majority Leader-elect Mitch McConnell will push to the forefront.

First should come the easy stuff. There is bipartisan support for approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline. President Obama has delayed this privately financed infrastructure project for several years, even though his own State Department determined that there would be no environmental damage. And Canada has been sending oil from Alberta to refineries in Illinois for four years through the first phases of the Keystone pipeline system.

All the Keystone XL does is run a second pipeline from Alberta through Montana, connecting to the existing Keystone pipeline in Nebraska, and picking up 100,000 barrels a day in Montana while it’s at it.

The second easy step is to allow crude oil and natural gas exports. In the mid-1970s, when U.S. oil and gas production was declining and gas lines were forming, Congress passed legislation prohibiting most crude oil and natural gas exports. Today, we have become the world’s largest producer of natural gas and the top oil producer in a year or two. Indeed, our current problem is surpluses, not shortages.

There is bipartisan support for ending the export ban, which would put the U.S. back in control of world energy policy, along with its foreign policy implications, for the first time in half a century.

Third, the Obama administration should be pushed to approve more applications for drilling on federal land and offshore. Most of the drilling that has spurred several state economies has been on private or state-controlled land, where Washington has no say.

But there are countless energy sources to tap on federal land and offshore that the administration has denied, stalled or slow-walked. Congress could help by passing legislation stipulating that drilling permits will be deemed approved unless the controlling agencies object within a specific amount of time.

While those options would increase federal revenues and spur state economies and job growth, Congress should take a separate action that would save tax dollars: cut Obama’s subsidies for renewable energy projects. Obama’s clean-energy handouts have been such an unmitigated disaster that words like “Solyndra” — a defunct solar energy company that cost taxpayers half a billion dollars — have become synonymous with waste and government incompetence.

Where to start? The first step is to not reauthorize the Production Tax Credit (PTC) that provides billions of taxpayer dollars for wind turbines. The PTC died last year after 20 years of taxpayer life support, but there is an effort to bring it back in the lame duck Congress.

America has become the world’s energy powerhouse; it’s time to act like the global leader that we are. We have the technology to expand energy production, which would have the additional benefit of providing jobs, growing the economy and enhancing national security.

And now, thanks to the election, we also have the elected representatives to get the job done.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas

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