The unseasonably warm winter in the Pee Dee and Grand Strand makes the wait for summer seem that much shorter. But with gas prices spiking, summer could mean less trips to the beach and fewer vacations for many American families.
As director of South Carolina Parks, Recreation and Tourism for eight years, I closely monitored the impact of gas prices on visitor spending. Even when families are able to take their cherished summer beach vacation, the bite that higher gas prices takes from their wallets curtails spending on restaurants, attractions and souvenirs, and often shortens their trip.
In addition to the direct impact on tourism, higher gas prices also ripple through the economy increasing the costs for businesses, including our critical distribution centers in the area. These higher costs are passed through to cash-strapped consumers in the form of higher prices.
The question is, what do we do about it?
The week that President Obama took office, gas was $1.89/gallon. In the four years since, we have seen that number double with no signs of it stopping. Four years later we are no closer to a domestic energy plan and our reliance on oil from foreign nations, many of which are hostile toward our country, is a threat to our national security.
We simply cannot afford to wait any longer. We must confront the systemic causes of our energy problems in order to relieve the burden that rising fuel costs place on Americans in general and the Pee Dee and Grand Strand particularly.
Specifically, we can begin by expanding energy exploration offshore and on federal lands. The de facto moratorium on offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico has cost jobs and has cut our production capacity by more than 300,000 barrels a day. Onerous Washington regulations that prevent drilling offshore need to be rolled back and onshore areas where oil can be extracted with minimal environmental impact, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, need to be opened. Strategic projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline must be approved.
Second, we need an efficient and sensible review process for permits. The Obama Administration is only too happy to slow down the process with excessive bureaucratic regulation. We must streamline review processes to help move permits through the system and enable investments to move forward. Most important, regulatory authority on such issues should be returned to the states.
Third, government involvement in the energy industry only constricts the ability of the free market to function. Rolling back the excessive regulations of the EPA and opposing the Obama Administration's war on coal and natural gas will enable the energy market to function more efficiently. The government should not waste taxpayer dollars picking winners and losers in the energy market. When Washington bureaucrats act as venture capitalists, we end up with a debacle like Solyndra, where over half a billion taxpayer dollars were lost. The free market is a much better determinant of the success of companies. Government involvement only distorts this process and opens the door for corruption.
A number of the Republican presidential candidates have released sensible energy plans that include these steps. We must also keep in mind that taking these steps could potentially yield massive revenue opportunities here at home. Royalties from energy production in the U.S. could potentially top $19 trillion. This revenue would also accompany the creation of more than one million high paying, American jobs. The additional revenue and job creation would be a shot in the arm to our economy, leading to cuts in the deficit, lower taxes and help in lowering the unemployment rate.
As a business owner and employer, I know all too well that rising gas prices increase the cost of doing business and discourage additional hiring. Our economic recovery depends on our ability to grow jobs. Congress and the White House should take immediate action on these priorities to correct the systemic causes of our rising gas prices and address the perils of our energy insecurity. All Americans will benefit from an energy policy that supports and grows energy made here in America, but the residents of South Carolina's 7th Congressional District will be some of the greatest beneficiaries nationwide.