D. Dowd Muska

 

This Week's Column

   

 

Keep America’s Economy Grounded

April 28, 2016

Ecochondriacs have moved beyond grandiosity. Beyond wishful thinking. And beyond economic ignorance. Now they’re just plain silly.

As explained by The Atlantic’s CityLab, “The explicit language of ‘keep it in the ground’ appears in a letter written by 400 green advocates requesting that President Obama cut off drilling on federal lands. A bill with that name sits in the U.S. Senate … . The websites of leading environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace proclaim Keep It in the Ground as a top priority for fighting climate change.”

Thankfully, the Institute for Energy Research (IER) has crafted a data-drenched response to KIITG’s nonsense. It’s required reading for anyone concerned about the economy, the environment, and energy.

“Exploring the Dangers of the Keep it in the Ground Campaign” starts with an inconvenient factoid: “In 2015, more than 81 percent of energy consumption in the U.S. came from petroleum, natural gas, and coal.” Wind and solar did not supply the remaining 19 percent -- the vast bulk came from nuclear plants, biomass-burning, and hydroelectric dams.

Sorry, Bernie Sanders volunteers, but politically correct energy makes a miniscule contribution to the nation’s heating, cooling, lighting, smartphone-charging, commuting, air travel, and industrial production. And while IER’s paper doesn’t mention it, a sizable chunk of real energy originates on lands under federal control. For coal, the figure is 40 percent. For oil, 21 percent. For natural gas, 13 percent.

We consume so much -- and thanks to technology, there’s so much left to use. In 1995, federal energy bureaucrats “thought the Bakken formation held 151 million barrels of technically recoverable oil. But in 2008, after some of the impact of hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling were included in the [U.S. Geological Survey] assessment, the estimate of recoverable oil in the Bakken jumped 25-fold. Then, the estimate doubled again -- after USGS considered the technological progress that occurred between 2008 and 2013.”

“Running out of resources” is clearly balderdash, but if you’re tempted by KIITG’s claims of environmental benefits, you haven’t been paying attention the last few decades. Between 1980 and 2014, energy consumption -- dominated by the “dirty” fuels -- increased by 26 percent. But in the same time, the EPA’s “six common air pollutants” (particulate matter, photochemical oxidants and ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and lead) fell by 63 percent. Carbon dioxide emissions increased, but at a slower pace than energy use, and well below the growth in population (41 percent), vehicle miles traveled (97 percent), and the economy (147 percent.)

Ideally, federal lands shouldn’t produce any energy -- because Washington shouldn’t control a single acre, with the exceptions of military facilities and (arguably) sites of historical significance and/or transcendent natural beauty. But until the day when the feds relinquish their holdings, tapping resources “owned by us all” makes sense. If anything, there isn’t enough mining and drilling underway. IER cites research by Louisiana State University’s Joseph Mason, who found that expanding production on federal lands “would create 552,000 jobs annually over the next seven years, with 2.7 million jobs annually over the next 30 years. Seventy-five percent of these jobs would be outside of the oil and gas industry in high-wage, high-skill fields such as healthcare, education, and the arts. It would translate into a $20.7 trillion cumulative increase in economic activity over the next thirty-seven years.”

Well, we can dream. Reality is discouraging. “Exploring the Dangers of the Keep it in the Ground Campaign” examines how KIITG’s agenda “is already underway, and has been the de facto policy of the Obama administration.” The 44th president has “actively blocked energy production on public lands and waters.” U.S. oil and natural gas production has exploded in recent years, but the boom’s been primarily on private holdings.

KIITG has been clever, so far, to focus on energy production on federal lands. But eco-alarmists are relentless. Their ultimate goal is the complete elimination of coal, oil, and natural gas, and the ascendency of unreliable and jaw-droppingly expensive wind and solar. Of course, even if such a replacement took place, fighting over federal lands wouldn’t vanish. Vast fields of solar panels and colossal forests of wind turbines would be bitterly opposed by nearly every “environmental” organization.

It is easy to scoff at KIITG -- dismiss it as standard asininity from “sustainability” scolds, reliable cluelessness by Hollywood half-wits, and rent-seeking by “progressive” energy “companies.” But backed by big bucks, and preying on Americans’ dismal grasp of the environment, economics, and energy, the campaign is a significant threat. You’ve been warned.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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