March 7, 2011 | Commentary on Energy and Environment, Energy Policy

End Obama's Policy of Higher Gas Prices

Gas prices are dangerously close to doubling since President Barack Obama was inaugurated. As American drivers and small-business owners feel the pain at the pump, he should reverse course and stop punishing consumers to promote a "green" agenda.

Yes, the events in Egypt and Libya have affected global oil prices. But we suffered the highest gas prices for the month of December in our nation's history in 2010 -- before uprisings in the Middle East even began. Unilateral administration action is the first step toward providing economic relief during a fragile recovery.

In past debates over gas prices, the conversation centered on how much we drill, but now the perspective is remarkably different. The Energy Information Administration reports that the U.S. will produce 13 percent less offshore domestic supply this year than last.

President Obama has needlessly left his drilling moratorium in place, in violation of federal court orders, permanently stalling nearly all permits for oil leases. As a result, domestic drilling access is decreasing at an alarming rate, and potential suppliers are moving their business to other countries, taking much-needed jobs with them, as well as billions of dollars in lost federal revenue normally created by offshore drilling.

At the same time, Obama's Environmental Protection Agency has been imposing costly and onerous restrictions on refiners, inflating the price of refined crude. Lifting these unnecessary regulations would lower the cost of oil and gas reaching the market.

In addition, we've tied our hands by not allowing energy access to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where an estimated 10 billion barrels exist, ready to be recovered with technology that allows a very small ecological footprint. Similar restrictions are impeding research and development of environmentally sound extraction methods to recover at least 800 billion barrels of oil from shale in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

Simply put, Obama needs to first restore and then expand our domestic exploration.
Liberals have long argued that it would take 10 years or more for those efforts to have a positive affect on prices. It's time to get started.

Aside from the much-needed oil these policy changes would produce, our nation would also benefit from restoring the energy jobs the president has carelessly eliminated, as well as restoring confidence in an economy that cannot suffer $5-a-gallon gas prices.

The president's Cabinet and advisers have begun to float the idea of emptying the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as an alternative solution. This would be foolish. It would remove or limit a national security protection in order to provide the president with political cover for a disastrous energy policy. This would be a shallow and reckless attempt to hide the underlying problem behind short-term and diminutive relief.

The fact is that it has been administration policy to welcome higher gas prices in order to focus attention on expensive alternative fuels. As Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in 2008: "Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe."

More wind and solar energy will have no affect on today's crisis. Less than 1 percent of America's electricity supply comes from petroleum. It is misleading to suggest these energy sources provide relief to our nation's oil demand.

Gasless vehicles simply don't commercially exist, and hybrids are too cost-prohibitive to be part of the solution. The Obama policy of higher gas prices to encourage alternative sources is unacceptable in this economy, or any other.

President Obama should immediately lift his de facto drilling moratorium, direct Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to conduct lease sales in the Outer Continental Shelf and demonstration projects involving oil shale, place sensible limits on federal review processes, and remove regulatory delays and costs.

We must our increase our domestic supply, not our foreign dependence. A market-based policy that does this, balancing economics with environmental benefit, will lower prices, create jobs and reduce the impact of global events in the future.

Rory Cooper is executive editor for The Foundry, the Heritage Foundation's blog of public policy news and commentary.

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