Why Energy Policy Matters For The California Primary
A long and contentious presidential-primary season closes this week with the final round of votes in California and elsewhere, as — to borrow a phrase from Churchill — “the end of the beginning” descends upon America’s 2016 election cycle. As we come to this point, it is worth looking at the tone and content of the energy policies under discussion in this contest.
A problem with much of the energy-policy discourse on the Presidential stage now is that many of the policies proposed actually present Americans with less energy availability — and at sharply higher prices. Similar energy plans to supplant coal, natural gas and oil in Europe have lead to electricity prices three times the average U.S. rate, leaving millions unable to pay for electricity in their homes and sharp increases in winter deaths. These regressive European energy policies are nearly identical to those supported by some of the major candidates.
Media coverage of this campaign season must move beyond the actors’ personalities and on to major issues at hand and energy policy should be at the top of this list. Voters deserve an upfront explanation of, and a robust debate about, the energy policies at issue in this campaign. Quintessentially green Californians may need a reminder of the extraordinary energy opportunities the state’s climate crusade has wrongfully denied them.
The Golden State sits on top of massive energy resources. Yet, while Texas, North Dakota and other states have recently enjoyed the economic advantages of the shale revolution, oil output in California decreased 21 percent between 2001 and 2012, according to the U.S. Energy Department, even as the price of oil remained at or near one hundred dollars a barrel.
California is hardly running out of oil. To the contrary, California has huge reserves offshore and even more in the Monterey shale, which stretches two hundred miles south and southeast from San Francisco. The Department of Energy estimates that the Monterey shale contains about fifteen billion barrels of oil—more than the estimated technically recoverable supply in the Bakken.
Much of California’s oil lies under federal land. The Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity sued to stop Occidental Petroleum from fracking in the Monterey shale. In 2013 a federal judge blocked fracking in California and ordered an environmental review of the drilling process that Texas, North Dakota, and other states have safely regulated for years. “We’re very excited. We’re thrilled,” exclaimed Rita Dalessio of the Sierra Club in response to the ruling. “I’m sure the champagne is flowing in San Francisco.” No doubt. Although oil prices plunged, oil is still flowing in states like Texas that have embraced the new energy economy, but this is not the case in California.
Even if the oil is on private land, California makes it politically difficult to get to it. Getting approval for an oil rig can take months. In Texas, by contrast, it takes an average of four days. In short, Texas understands how the entire state benefits from its oil industry, while Californians, brainwashed into believing that oil and gas are “dirty fuels,” are embarrassed by it.
California has also passed a major climate bill and a cap-and-trade program that adds substantially to the costs of conventional energy production and refining. The state redistributes huge sums of taxpayers money through programs such as a state rebate of up to $6500 for purchase of an electric vehicle and in addition to a federal rebate of $7500. While over 9000 California businesses have left the state over the last seven years, according to a study by Joseph Vranich, the politicians in Sacramento and their Silicon Valley financiers continue their multibillion-dollar bets on biofuels and other green energy. Pacific Gas and Electric gave Ivanpah — the world’s largest solar thermal plant — a generous guaranteed contract but the plant is generating far less solar generation than assumed and may have to close.
When Californians vote today, they’ll be choosing policies as much as candidates — and many of those policies, unfortunately, can be counted on to advance more futile and regressive climate mandates. California – and America – deserve a president who truly understands how to make the most of our country’s boundless energy reserves.
Kathleen Hartnett White is Distinguished Senior Fellow-in-Residence and Director of the Armstrong Center for Energy & the Environment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and former Chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. She is coauthor of the new book Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy (Regnery, 2016).