Note to GOP: Use energy as an electoral weapon

Michael Hudome Michael J. Hudome is a Republican media consultant whose clients have included John McCain for President, all four national committees and several current and former members of the House and Senate.
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Any sane analysis of Russia’s recent behavior toward the United States and the West ends with the conclusion that the oligarchs in Moscow see no reason to fear reprisals for their aggression.

Their operating premise is that they are big and strong enough to withstand the obtuse semi-threats from President Obama and the EU.

One reason for this hubris is energy. Even with an economy in shambles Russia is still a leading exporter of energy. They provide the lion’s share of the natural gas needs of Europe.

Russia’s aggression is not limited to Soviet era annexation and intimidation of their former Soviet Republics. Invoking unpleasant memories of OPEC in the 1970’s when the cartel used oil as a political weapon against the West, Russia has been known to use natural gas a political weapon.  Clearview Energy Partners of Washington DC notes in a report “three times in the last decade Russia has cut off its natural supply to Ukraine.” They also note “about two-thirds of Russian gas exports traverse Ukraine.”

Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine gives Republicans in Congress the opportunity to revisit the argument that energy security is a matter of national security. It is time to use energy as an electoral weapon. Reshaping domestic energy policy at home should give the GOP another offensive card to play.

Our reliance on imported oil allows our enemies to attack each and every American consumer from the other side of the globe. We have the option to end that threat, strengthen our economy and improve national security. It is long past time for the president and Democrats to stop impeding obvious and smart energy options.

While nations hostile to our own best interests continue to drill for oil, develop new energy sources and gobble up resources around the globe, Democrats in Washington can’t make the obvious choices.

Spending $100 on a barrel of oil produced in the United States creates more jobs in this country than spending $100 on a barrel of oil produced overseas.

One solution could be more drilling in Alaska. Oil production from Alaska has plummeted from over two million barrels per day in 1988 to 572,000 barrels per day in 2011. This is not happening because Alaska is running out of oil. It’s because Democrats in Washington long ago ran out of common sense and political courage. Now, the Trans-Alaska pipeline is in serious jeopardy of shutting down because we aren’t producing enough oil to keep it full.

The president’s solution? Offer to open an area that is relatively unappealing to oil and gas producers and claim that he’s for Alaskan production, except for in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve, which we all know holds massive potential for improving America’s energy security.

Another solution is aggressive development of natural gas, specifically the Marcellus Shale. We can drive our vehicles on natural gas at less than half the price of gasoline. This is not disputed. It is, however, subject to the same blanket opposition the professional environmentalists throw up to any domestic energy production that’s not solar, wind, or algae.

Again, spending $2 on natural gas produced in the United States creates more jobs in the United States than spending $4 on gasoline made from oil produced overseas.

Republicans should step up efforts and go on the offense by promoting increased energy exports. One place to start is with our abundant liquefied natural gas (LNG) resources. Renew the idea of opening up exports to NATO nations and rewarding other friends who are reliant on bad actors like Russian and Iran. Current policy only allows exports to the countries with which we have a Free Trade Agreement.

Naturally, one impediment to opening up exports is Obama’s own Department of Energy. The terminals needed to swiftly export LNG have not been built because only one permit has been issued. As if one needs more evidence of the modus operandi of the administration, the various American businesses seeking to build the terminals and export the LNG keep running in to more regulatory roadblocks with conditional approval tactics. If the terminals were approved today, it would still take five long years for the gas to flow. Putin could well have the old Soviet Union reassembled by then. Speak to anyone in the energy industry and you will find no one thinks Obama is moving too fast.

Increased foreign trade is a political winner. A recent survey for the Business Roundtable by the GOP polling firm McLaughlin and Associates showed 80 percent of likely voters want the president and Congress to work together to eliminate trade barriers.

Groundbreaking on the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline has been slow-walked by the president for too long now. The pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast would create an estimated 42,000 jobs.

Oddly enough, ten Democratic Senators and some powerful unions support construction immediately. So what is the president waiting for? Surely he’ll never get the green light from Greenpeace. So the answer is most certainly he doesn’t dare offend the moneyed environmentalists on the left that fund House and Senate races for his party.

Crises like those in Russia and Syria have not only shined a light on Obama’s feckless foreign policy, they have exposed for all to see that narrow and short-sighted policies of Democrats in Congress have left our country in a weaker position in the world than necessary.

It’s time for the GOP to make these arguments on the campaign trail and not simply on the floor of the House and Senate. Test the positive energy messages in our surveys. Make the security argument in tandem with the jobs argument. Advertise the benefits of ramping up our energy production. Make energy part of the campaign budgets and a staple of campaign messaging. Put liberal Members of the House and Senate on defense.

If Republicans in Congress can articulate properly the case for energy security and energy independence, they will be rewarded at the polls. There is no reason the GOP can’t make the playing field even larger using energy as an electoral weapon.