As a Democract, I have asked myself how it is that the current administration could be so consistently wrong on energy policy. There was a time in the days of Bob Kerr, Lyndon Johnson, Sam Rayburn, and Bennett Johnson that energy policy was bipartisan. In fact, those Democratic wheel horses from the great Southwest made sure that the policy–particularly as regarded oil and gas– was somewhat rational.
Carter Was Pro-Drilling Compared to Obama
The last Democratic President to acknowledge the need for exploration was Jimmy Carter, under whom I served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oil and Gas. Carter pushed both an offshore 5-year leasing plan and production from the Naval Petroleum Reserves. I know–I was in charge of both.
So despite the Windfall Profits Tax and much hyperbolic rhetoric, President Carter had a foot, or at least a few toes, in the pro-production camp. And it was none other than Carter who set up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for drilling (after adequate study) as one of his last acts in office.
The 39th President also initiated both the decontrol of gas dating from the 1950’s and the (phased) decontrol of crude oil and oil products that began with Richard Nixon in 1971 which Reagan simply accelerated with his famous decontrol executive order of January 1981.
Democrats vs. Drilling
But no more! Democrats today seem to want to fly in the face of reality by espousing phantom sources of energy and working at cross purposes with American interests:
Democrats today tend to:
All this leads Democrats to support and subsidize trendy new sources of power (e.g. switchgrass!) without acknowledging how limited or how environmentally damaging they are when implemented on a large scale.
This has only a little to do with “free market” ideology. I assert that a centrist–or if you like a moderate liberal–who believes in moderate government intervention (securities regulation, social security, Medicare, single payer health, etc.) can:
Democrats are willing to see a Goldman Sachs man in treasury, but you can imagine the howl if Rex Tillerson (Exxon CEO) was tapped to head the Department of Energy?
And all this anti-hydrocarbon cant has been going on since the 1980s—three decades now.
Where’s an Energy-realist Democrat to Turn?
So I find myself applauding institutions such as Cato, IER, and the American Petroleum Institute and wishing for the day when we could have some Democrats in the White House, Senate and House who understand how the real energy world works.
R. Dobie Langenkamp (BA, Stanford; JD, Harvard Law School) was Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oil and Gas, U.S. Department of Energy (1977–81) and deputy assistant secretary for Naval Petroleum Reserves, U.S. Department of Energy (1996–97).
He has consulted for the Department of Energy and the State Department on Iraqi energy law and policy and was Director of the National Energy-Environment Law and Policy Institute at Tulsa University Law School. He now practices and lectures on international energy law. His entire resume is here.