The Obama administration: Saving jobs, 20 electoral votes at a time

Buckley Carlson Political Strategist
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Mitt Romney may have just lost his rationale for the presidency. In recent weeks, the Obama administration has been slashing environmental regulations, coddling “Big Oil,” circumnavigating the stickiest of environmental bureaucracies, and sucking up to private equity.

If you had trouble just now stifling an “Amen!” or a “Right on!” or some other more salty and enthusiastic exclamation, then there’s a good chance you aren’t a member of Obama’s usual demographic.

There’s an equally good chance that until this moment you were unaware that the Obama administration had played a central role in saving the largest oil refinery on the East Coast — and with it, 850 union jobs and a chance at winning Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes.

If you subject yourself only to the standard pop-culture fare of TV “news,” you definitely missed it. Absent my online subscription to the Wall Street Journal, I may have missed it too.

Here is the Wall Street Journal piece, and here are the highlights from it:

After losing more than $1 billion over three years on its two oil refineries, Sunoco announced last year that it was getting out of the refining business, selling its operations in Philadelphia and Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania.

Apparently, this surprised no one in the industry, as evidenced by the March 2012 congressional testimony of Charlie Drevna, the president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM).

“High crude oil costs, a struggling economy, foreign competition, new government regulations, and an uncertain regulatory future” have conspired to create “significant challenges” for the refining industry, Drevna said. He had a lot more to say:

The U.S. refining sector is facing a blizzard of costly, and in some cases conflicting, regulations that threaten its competitiveness in a global marketplace. Many of these regulations carry little environmental benefit. A Department of Energy report issued in March 2011 concluded that the cumulative burden of federal regulations was a significant factor in the closure of 66 petroleum refineries in the United States in the past 20 years.

It’s compelling stuff, but it didn’t make the White House’s agenda until the release of a February report from the Energy Information Administration highlighting a potential consequence of the Pennsylvania refineries’ closure: price spikes.

This news, according to the Journal, set off “alarm bells” in the White House. And, in short order, the administration fielded a battle group of damage-control warriors, headed by Clinton administration veteran Gene Sperling.

Sperling, the director of the National Economic Council, made some furious phone calls to allies throughout government, to elected officials in Pennsylvania — including the Republican governor, Tom Corbett — and to the Carlyle Group, which the Journal describes as “a well-connected Washington, D.C., private-equity firm.”

Carlyle is the hugely successful, oft-cited, “Bush-connected” private equity firm that lies at the center of so many left-propagated conspiracy theories of world domination in general, and the terrorist attacks of 9/11 more specifically. Carlyle has been vilified by the likes of Michael Moore, Bill Maher and Barney Frank nearly as often as Halliburton and perhaps slightly more often than Blackwater. Which is to say, Obama and Carlyle make “strange bedfellows” — especially when you consider Obama’s near-constant assault on private equity, the primary source of Romney’s wealth and success.

The Philadelphia refinery deal, which will be finalized in September, has Carlyle acquiring two-thirds of the business, with a commitment to run it and spend $200 million upgrading it.

In return for the joint venture with Sunoco, Carlyle secured an agreement that the “Obama administration and state regulators” would, according to the Wall Street Journal, “loosen certain environmental restrictions on the refinery.” Additionally, Pennsylvania’s Republican governor, Tom Corbett, has promised $25 million in state subsidies and other incentives.

So, in just a couple of months, the Obama administration orchestrated the rescue of the East Coast’s largest oil refinery. Utilizing quiet but muscular exertions, the administration circumnavigated its own onerous regulations, wielded executive power to plow through multiple sticky layers of bureaucracy, goaded — or intimidated — state and local governments into offering incentives for investment, and appealed to the financial sector for help.

The administration successfully shielded the president from the embarrassment of a late-spring/early-summer spike in gas prices of 20-30 cents a gallon, as well as a much-needed examination of his failed “energy policies.”

The administration accomplished all this in record time, without requiring the president to neglect his golf game, his furious scramble for campaign cash, or his relentless, cynical, class-riling, and divisive demagoguery and demonization of “the rich,” as well as just the merely successful.

The administration accomplished all of this while seeking no recognition, and also while earning no cries of “hypocrisy.”

It is a model of efficiency I hope the Romney administration is capable of emulating — without the demagoguery.

Buckley Carlson, a Washington-based writer and political strategist, can be reached at Buckley@buckmedia.org.

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Buckley Carlson