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The Wall Street Journal - Energy in the Executive: The Real Record on Fossil Fuels

Op-Ed

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By Representative Steven LaTourette

One of the feats of President Obama's re-election campaign is its ability to describe his record in a way that bears little or no relation to the reality of the last four years. Exhibit A is Mr. Obama's riff on energy at Tuesday night's debate, when he all but ran to the right of Mitt Romney, and maybe Sarah Palin.

The exchange began when an audience member asked Mr. Obama about Steven Chu's job description, which the Energy Secretary has repeatedly said does not include helping to lower gasoline prices. Mr. Obama never answered that one, but he did use the opportunity to pose as the John the Baptist of fossil fuels, invoking oil drilling, the natural gas fracking boom and even coal production.

Mr. Obama (and his green allies) must have died a little on the inside when he said that, given that he ran in 2008 on a promise to build a "new energy economy," by which he meant everything but fossil fuels.

As we have learned, the plan was to subsidize dozens of companies with little commercial potential but that were often owned by Mr. Obama's green allies. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency would go on a regulatory binge like nothing in modern U.S. history against traditional carbon-based sources of energy, coal in particular.

Mr. Romney went small bore in the debate, noting that the Administration has not in practice promoted the production of U.S. energy resources on federal lands and waters, in fact the opposite. Mr. Obama responded by flatly stating that "very little of what Governor Romney just said is true. We've opened up public lands. We're actually drilling more on public lands than in the previous Administration." He said he supported "an all-of-the-above strategy."

"But that's not what you've done in the last four years," Mr. Romney said. "That's the problem." Mr. Obama: "Sure it is." Mr. Romney: "In the last four years, you cut permits and licenses on federal land and federal waters in half." Mr. Obama: "Not true, Governor Romney."

Then there was this timeless bit: Mr. Obama: "The production is up."

Mr. Romney: "Production on government land of oil is down 14%."

Mr. Obama: "Governor-"

Mr. Romney: "And production of gas is down 9%."

Mr. Obama: "What you're saying is just not true. It's just not true."

The problem for the President is that a government outfit called the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) compiles these statistics. That's where Mr. Romney got his accurate figures on oil and gas production on government land and permitting in Mr. Obama's first term. The EIA also reports that total fossil fuel production in public areas-oil, gas and coal-has plunged to a nine-year low, to 18.6 quadrillion BTUs from 21.2 quadrillion in 2003.

Mr. Obama is correct that overall domestic energy production is up, thanks largely to the shale boom in states like Pennsylvania and North Dakota. But he's trying to take credit for something he had nothing to do with, given that this surge is taking place on private property and the EPA is searching for an excuse to supplant state regulation and slow down drilling. Wait for the second term.

The President's cameo as a coal guy is even more amazing. In 2008 Mr. Obama declared that he wanted electricity rates for so-called dirty fuels to "necessarily skyrocket" and "if somebody wants to build a coal plant, they can-it's just that it will bankrupt them."

That's one promise he's kept: For the first time, coal is in decline, with production falling 6.5% since 2008, according to the EIA. Part of the reason is a shock from cheap natural gas. But the major reason is a surge of EPA air and water rules, such as an unrealistic and pointless $9.6 billion rule for trace mercury emissions that the agency put out last year.

The EIA expects 8.5% of the coal-fired fleet to retire by 2016, and 17% by 2020, and those are very conservative estimates. Coal has fallen to 32% of U.S. net electric generation, according to preliminary EIA data for 2012. This share stood at about 48% when Mr. Obama took office.

All of this amounts to one of the fastest energy transitions in U.S. history. Even some regulators within the Administration oppose the EPA's force majeure, fearing blackouts and other reliability issues as plants are retired despite many remaining useful years. Amid mine closings and layoffs, the United Mine Workers of America declined to endorse Mr. Obama this year, though the union did in 2008.

And let us not forget the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada, which Mr. Obama personally rejected amid a furious green lobbying campaign. His debate answer to that fact was to assert that "we've built enough pipeline to wrap around the entire Earth once," whatever that means. It reflects well on Mr. Romney's temperament that he didn't pull the full Joe Biden and start hooting.


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