Known as a cheerleader for energy, I like to focus on good news. However, the energy environment under the Obama administration has offered little to cheer about-except: "It could be worse." Oil prices are a fraction of what they were in the most recent boom times and hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost. On the coal side, more than fifty major coal companies have gone bankrupt in the past five years and, largely due to rules and regulations, the industry has suffered job losses of nearly fifty percent since 2011.
Ever the optimist, and because, thanks to supporters like you, I follow these issues every day, I see reason for hope regarding Obama's executive overreach. But, I am also reminded of the importance of the presidential election.
I hope my review of some of the recent occurrences will be an encouragement to you-while reinforcing which candidate will get your vote! In 2016, there is a definite nexus between energy and the election.
On June 21, 2016, a federal judge, an Obama appointee, in the US District Court for the District of Wyoming, struck down the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's (BLM's) hydraulic fracturing regulations-a rulemaking that had been in process since 2012. Judge Scott Skavdahl found that Congress never delegated authority over fracking to the BLM or the Interior Department. He wrote: "The BLM's effort to do so through the Fracking Rule is in excess of its statutory authority and contrary to law." In its report on the ruling, Environment and Energy Publishing declared: "The Obama administration's hydraulic fracturing rule is dead."
The decision blocks the enforcement of BLM's rule and leaves the regulation of hydraulic fracturing to the individual states.
Within the states, outside groups have come in to agitate the locals in an attempt to get communities to ban fracking-generally working in towns and cities with a high percentage of college students and/or where there is no current oil-and-gas activity. While the anti-fossil-fuel effort has had some success, like the BLM's rule, the courts (and, in Texas, the legislature) have determined that the regulation of hydraulic fracturing is the jurisdiction of the state. Anti-fracking activists have been thwarted in New Mexico, Colorado, Louisiana, West Virginia, Ohio, and Texas-though they haven't given up. The Obama administration has already appealed the BLM decision.
The presidential election will also have a big impact on the future direction of fracking regulations. Senator Bernie Sanders wanted an outright ban on hydraulic fracturing on federal lands. He pushed Secretary Hillary Clinton further down the anti-fossil-fuel road than her original phase-out stance. At a March debate in Flint, Michigan, she gleefully stated: "By the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place." In contrast, Donald Trump agrees with the courts and says fracking should be regulated by the states.
Realize that the attacks against hydraulic fracturing are not really about fracking, they are a covert way to ban drilling, as more than 95 percent of the wells drilled in America today use the technology. America's new era of energy abundance is the direct result of hydraulic fracturing combined with horizontal drilling. Ban fracking, and you've essentially banned drilling.
Then, there is the much-maligned coal industry, where there is also some good news; some pushback against the excessive regulation that has nearly "put coal miners and coal companies out of business."
While detrimental regulations have been chipping away at coal-fueled power generation for the past seven years, the Clean Power Plan (CPP) would all but finish it off. CPP is the cornerstone of Obama's climate change legacy and is essential to the U.S. meeting its Paris Climate Agreement commitment for carbon-dioxide emission reductions.
As they've done with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, the courts have smacked down this huge Obama administration overreach. On February 9, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a historic stay on the CPP that halts implementation until the legal challenges are settled-though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Gina McCarthy, announced plans to keep moving it forward.
Here the election's outcome is essential. It is expected that CPP will ultimately end up in front of the Justices. Had the case been decided just a few weeks later, after the death of Justice Scalia, the decision likely would have been 180 degrees from what was handed down in the 5-4 case. Had the court split 4-4, as it has done with nearly every important case since Scalia's death, the lower court's decision would have held: the D.C. Circuit refused to stay CPP. A President Clinton would likely appoint a Justice who would side with the CPP. A President Trump-who favors states' rights and has already said he'd rescind the Climate Action Plan-has said he would appoint a Justice who is as close to Scalia as possible.
More recently, the courts have again pushed back on the EPA's anti-coal regulations. This time, on July 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in a case involving Texas, blocked the EPA's Regional Haze Plan-a plan that has already caused the Public Service Company of New Mexico to shutter two of its four coal-fired units at one station. Even before the transition is complete, 85 jobs at the adjoining coal mine have already been lost. Similar shutdowns have been forced throughout the west. The Institute for Energy Research has called Regional Haze "Obama's stealth weapon in the war on coal." Instead of complying with the EPA, Texas fought the ruling and won.
With his promise to save coal, coal miners have come out en masse for Trump. I asked Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Trump's energy advisor, what Trump could really do for coal. He told me that while coal-fueled power plants that have already been shut down or converted to natural gas will not likely be reopened, a Trump administration can save what's left and stop the bleeding by not artificially punishing the industry through regulation.
Additionally, under a President Trump, when the CPP is back in the courts, attorneys arguing the case would present it from his view, not Obama's. He's also proposed, and the GOP party platform has embraced, reforming the EPA into more of an independent bipartisan commission-similar to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
America's abundant and available natural resources have provided us with energy that is effective, efficient, and economical-giving us energy security and a competitive advantage in a global marketplace. They are riches that should be managed and maximized to the benefit of our nation. They can be shipped to other countries, bringing balance to our trade deficit and offering secure supplies to our friends. Locking them up will make us more dependent on foreign countries which are hostile toward our interests-thereby hurting our allies and our balance of payments.
Everyone says that after Labor Day voters really tune into the election. I will be doing everything I can to keep energy issues in front of voters. I now have more than a dozen websites-including Townhall.com, Breibart.com and the American Spectator at Spectator.org-that routinely post everything I write and several newspapers that publish the print version of my weekly column.
Thank you for your continued encouragement support that allows me to fulfill the mission of keeping energy in front of the media and the public.
This election, understanding energy is essential. The nexus is obvious-as should be your vote.