In several of the presidential campaign debates, candidates have referred to each other as “low-energy,” and the accusation has stuck, especially when leveled by Donald Trump at Jeb Bush. But in one sense, all of the candidates on both sides are “low-energy,” that is, none of them are really talking much about energy issues.
Even during the Republican debate held in Colorado, few of the candidates even mentioned energy. That is especially surprising in light of recent polling that showed Colorado voters continue to think energy is a critically important issue. In a poll conducted just days before the debate, 68 percent of registered voters – Democrats, Independents, and Republicans – said they are more likely to support a candidate who favors producing more oil and natural gas, and an overwhelming 78 percent said they support production here in the United States, rather than overseas. And a majority of Colorado voters (53 percent) said the U.S. is not doing enough to encourage such domestic production.
If the numbers were fairly close, you might view the poll skeptically because it was commissioned by the Colorado Petroleum Council, but these results were not close. They show definitively that Colorado voters connect the dots between energy production and a growing economy that generates new jobs.
Conducted by the universally-respected Harris Poll, the survey found that 98 percent of the respondents believe the economy is the most important issue confronting the nation today, along with job creation, termed “very important” or “somewhat important” by 97 percent of those polled. That’s why James Carville famously admonished candidate Bill Clinton in 1992 to stay focused, advising, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
While voters have remained fairly focused on the relationship between domestic energy production and the economy, oil, gas, and coal have fallen out of favor with the government. In fact, the Administration has been openly hostile to fossil fuels and the companies that produce them. The President wants greater reliance on wind and solar energy to mitigate the effects of climate change, which he has called “the greatest threat to future generations.”
Thus, we have seen enlarged subsidies and scores of regulations aimed at encouraging wind and solar, and reducing our use of the primary fuels that power our economy. The cost to the economy of all of the Administration’s regulations has been substantial – estimated at $80 billion a year in compliance costs. Of the more than 21,000 regulations issued by this Administration, several could have a detrimental impact on Colorado’s oil and natural gas jobs, including the new ground-level ozone standard and methane emission requirements for oil and gas operations.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims its rules are necessary to fight climate change and improve air quality. But as we have seen in previous columns, American air quality has improved substantially without them, and they would have virtually no effect on the climate.
In fact, the six worst air pollutants specifically named in the Clean Air Act have fallen dramatically nationwide. The EPA reports that nitrogen dioxide levels declined by 57 percent between 1980 and 2014 and are well below the national standard. During the same period, carbon monoxide has dropped by 85 percent, ground-level ozone by 33 percent, average airborne lead concentrations by 98 percent, sulfur dioxide by 80 percent, and particulate matter by 35 percent. That’s all good news. The sky isn’t falling, and it isn’t very dirty anymore.
That doesn’t mean we no longer care about clean air, or that we should stop working for constant improvement. But we should also acknowledge that some pollution is natural, caused by lightning strikes, fires, volcanoes, and other natural processes. The air was never perfectly pristine, and we should be very careful about obstructing economic growth, and limiting our freedom and prosperity, to push for unrealistic goals or political agendas.
By discouraging domestic production, burdensome regulations put workers’ livelihoods at risk. As fewer wells are started in Colorado, more workers are being laid off. In August, Baker Hughes announced a “mass layoff” of 114 in the Brighton office alone. More such layoffs are coming.
Colorado voters know allowing greater access to oil and natural gas reserves could be beneficial. Eighty-three percent told the pollsters it would create jobs, stimulate the economy, and improve America’s energy security.
Colorado voters aren’t the only ones who understand the link between energy and the economy – nearly all Americans get that. So candidates in both parties should take note, and infuse their campaigns with a higher dose of energy.
(A version of this column originally appeared in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel December 11, 2015.)