February 08, 2011

The Freshman Class of the 112th Congress: Energy Independence the Hottest Topic

Not only do many of the new members of Congress share a
background in the energy industry, as I outlined
in a previous post
, but their proposed energy policies are
strikingly similar. If their past statements are any indication, many members
of the freshman class see the U.S. reliance on foreign oil as a dire threat.
More importantly, given their positions
of legislative power
, many of them agree that the best way to end
our dependence is through increasing the amount of domestic non-renewable
energy sources.

Many of the new members see our reliance on foreign oil as
both an economic and security threat. As one new Congressman, Rep Chip Cravaack
(R-MN), put
it during the campaign
we import over 70 percent of our oil from foreign countries. Both as a matter of National
Security and as a matter of economics, we must stop transferring our wealth to
foreign hostile governments.” Increasing our domestic energy production is seen
as a viable alternative to many of the freshmen. As Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) has explained, "We could be
self-sufficient much quicker than the so-called experts would like America to
believe,” estimating that a “self-sufficient” energy economy would take about 10
to 20 years to build. Johnson’s plan for self-sufficiency includes tapping more
coal, gas, and shale oil but does not mention any renewable energy sources, according
to local newspaper reports
. The only thing preventing using domestic
energy sources to end our dependency on foreign oil, many freshman members
argue, is the EPA’s energy regulations, which many hope to reduce
significantly. A
centerpiece of Rep. David McKinley’s
(R-WV) campaign, for instance,
was his pledge to end the
“war on coal that has been under way now for several years from the EPA.”
(Notably, West Virginia alone is estimated to have spent
97.5 million
dollars to
support the coal industry last year in subsidies and other forms of aid.)

Focusing heavily on energy “independence” and
“self-sufficiency” seems to have fit well with the nationalistic, small
government, and job-creation messages that were prominent 2010 campaign themes.
A central rationale the freshmen had for focusing on domestic energy is that it
would create jobs for Americans. This is not all too surprising since many of
these same members hail from resource-rich districts. For example, after
decrying the EPA’s “war on coal,” Rep.
McKinley proclaimed
, “Coal
is West Virginia.”

This rhetoric notwithstanding,
however, the substance of these arguments is a different matter. First, 25 percent of the country’s energy is supplied by petroleum, prices
for which are primarily set in a global market. “Independence” from the global
market is not as feasible as many of the new class advocate, short of a steep
decline in U.S. dependence on petroleum, which accounts for 95 percent of its transportation
. In the face of
these numbers, and without focusing on efficiency and renewable energy
technology, self-sufficiency seems a bit optimistic.