This week as Congress debates a $15 billion jobs bill aimed at getting more than 15 million unemployed Americans back to work, there is this story out of Janesville, Wis.: An autoworker was so desperate to hold onto his job that he followed it when it moved to another state 500 miles away.
Desperate times do, indeed, call for desperate measures, and after two straight years of jobs loss, many people can think of worse things than a 1,000-mile-per-week commute that, after hours on the road, leads to a paycheck.
You have to applaud Congress for its attention to the very severe jobs crisis the country faces. But any reasonable person also has to wonder if there isn’t an easier way.
The Heritage Foundation made the same point earlier this month when it outlined research showing how increasing domestic oil production by 2 million barrels per day could create 270,000 jobs.
The best thing about these jobs is that they would be easy to find. Ever since July of 2008, when then-President Bush lifted a 10-year-ban on offshore drilling, there has been pent-up demand from Florida to California, Texas and even Virginia to begin exploratory drilling in the nation’s outer continental shelf.
It’s going on two years since that historic milestone, which might have created more of the well-paying jobs we need. And yet, we’re all still waiting. That’s because there seems to be a de-facto ban in place, with layers of red tape, despite an overwhelming show of support by the American public in favor of increasing the responsible production of domestic oil and gas.
Now, given the history of energy in our country, it’s reasonable to assume that oil, gas, nuclear power and even windmills will all be the topics of debate for years to come. And that’s probably fine—to a point. Vigorous public debates can help us refine our policies so that they better address a broad range of interests.
But when you reach a point where the public “discussion” is so heated that it chokes off all action, the debate is no longer serving anyone. And, at a time when lawmakers are talking about spending billions of dollars to put people back to work, it seems irresponsible to disregard the strategies that would create thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of jobs, without costing the government a penny.
Today more and more states are revisiting drilling projects in coastal waters. For the first time in years, California, one of the most oil-rich states in the nation, is considering ways to allow more offshore drilling. But it took a severe state budget crisis to get it to that point, and strong opposition remains. Sentiment also appears to be shifting in Florida, where even some of the tourist groups that were once the staunchest opponents to offshore drilling have come to recognize that you can’t have a strong tourism industry without a strong economic base.
These are promising signs to be sure, but without decisive support and follow through, they will remain just that: unfulfilled promises.
In Virginia, lawmakers are close to passing a law that would allocate revenues from offshore drilling projects for roads in the state. Yet, the drilling itself has not yet commenced and could face delays for years. Even Alaska’s oil industry, long a strong and steady source of domestic oil, faces an uncertain future thanks to red tape.
Irresponsible behavior, or just madness? At a time desperate job seekers are being forced to drive thousands of miles to find work, this ongoing resistance to increased domestic oil and gas production seems to be a little bit of both.
David Holt is president of the non-profit organization, Consumer Energy Alliance.