Cutting The Red Tape On The Way To U.S. Global Energy Dominance


Bonner Cohen Author, Fixing America’s Crumbling Underground Infrastructure
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Never one to understate his case, President Trump last summer proclaimed that the United States would seek and achieve “global energy dominance.”

This is not mere bombast on the part of the president; the goal is absolutely achievable in light of America’s abundance not only of hydrocarbons, but also of innovative technologies and nimble businesses practices that enable energy to be produced and brought to market at an affordable price.

As the world’s largest producer of natural gas and its fastest-growing producer of crude oil, the U.S., thanks to the Shale Revolution, has shaken up global energy markets, undermining OPEC’s and Russia’s ability to dictate the price of oil and gas to energy-importing countries. And possessing the world’s largest reserves of coal, the U.S. is in a position to fulfill the growing energy needs in India, Africa and elsewhere.

Less than a year in office, the Trump administration has made enormous strides in rolling back Obama-era regulations specifically crafted to hamstring American energy production. But the swamp in Washington is still very much with us, and there are further steps Team Trump can take to accelerate its draining.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt isn’t just tinkering with EPA, he’s turning the place upside down. By diversifying the scientific views that support EPA policies, and by cooperating with, as opposed to dictating to, state and local officials, Pruitt has reversed decades of EPA’s throwing its weight around to its heart’s content.

On the energy front, Pruitt can build on his rescinding of Obama-era regulations such as the Clean Power Plan by reforming the agency’s New Source Review rules, which, as written, actually discourage needed maintenance and improvement projects at existing coal-fired power plants, including projects designed to improve unit efficiency lost over time through wear and tear. The more efficient a power plant operates, the fewer emissions it produces, with resulting improvements in air quality.

Similarly, the agency should substantially revise its cumbersome, one-size-fits-all rules dealing with electric utilities. EPA’s ground-level ozone, cross-state air pollution and Maximum Achievable Technology (MAT) rules ignore local conditions and place a regulatory straight-jacket on utilities that discourage the introduction of innovative technologies that can improve plant efficiency and air quality.

In the wake of Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris climate accords, and Pruitt’s rescinding of anti-fossil-fuel regulations, EPA will have to overturn the Obama administration’s Endangerment Finding. As long as EPA is on record as declaring carbon dioxide a pollutant, the agency will be open to lawsuits from environmental groups and blue-state attorneys general demanding action to combat climate change. Pruitt should proceed with caution so as to limit EPA’s liability in dismantling the endangerment finding. It may also be advisable to wait for Justice Kennedy to step down from the Supreme Court, and be replaced by a more reliable constitutionalist, before heading down this path.

Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry has already quickened DOE’s pace in approving Atlantic and Gulf Coast terminals for the export of liquified natural gas (LNG). Foreign customers, from Europe to Asia, are eager to get their hands on abundant and affordable American LNG.

During the Obama years, DOE was transformed into an instrument to support renewable energy programs, from loan guarantees to billions of taxpayer dollars poured into renewable energy R&D and alternative vehicle technologies. The U.S. taxpayer became the lender of last resort and the funder of politically preferred renewable energy projects. As a Heritage Foundation’s report points out, the federal government should not be involved in “trying to make more efficient solar panels, CO2-free coal plants, smaller commercial nuclear power reactors, or any number of other activities aimed at jump-starting energy technologies.”

Rather than interfering with, and thus distorting, energy markets, as happened under Obama, Secretary Perry should work with EPA, the Interior Department and State Department to remove barriers to providing Americans and people abroad access to the energy they need.

Department of Interior DOI has jurisdiction over 400,000 million acres of federal land, 26% of which is in 11 resource-rich western states. It also has responsibility for managing offshore energy resources on 1.7 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

Its huge role in America’s energy future is undermined by the agency’s bloated bureaucracy which has been notoriously slow in approving permits for extraction of oil, gas and coal. The Washington-centric management Secretary Ryan Zinke inherited should be dismantled in favor of engaging rural western communities and resource developers in the decision-making process. State environmental agencies with jurisdiction over fracking on private land, for example, generally approve permits within weeks, but it can take DOI years to issue a permit. The Trump administration should do everything in its power to speed up the permitting process for energy extraction on federal land and on the OCS.

The economic and geopolitical implications of America’s energy abundance are enormous. It’s time to remove the roadblocks.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.

  The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.