Politics & Policy

Newt Beats Mitt on Energy

Gingrich has revolutionary ideas, while Mitt enlists Bush-era bureaucrats.

In the race for the Republican nomination, instead of focusing on where the front-runners differ on policy, most of the commentary has focused on their contrasting personalities, putative past malfeasances, campaign gaffes, debate performances, and other atmospherics. This is unfortunate, because in the critical area of energy policy, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are as different as night and day.

Newt Gingrich has been advancing the cause of American energy independence for years. In 2008, for example, he published a book entitled “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less” and produced a movie, We Have the Power, making the same points. When oil prices soared above $130 per barrel that year, he used these materials to launch a nationwide petition campaign for expanded drilling, which gathered several million signatures and provided the GOP with one of its more compelling planks in the election. Since then, he has continued to campaign for expanded drilling, opening up the vehicle-fuel market to natural gas and methanol, and building the Keystone pipeline. Most important, he has openly called for the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the single largest obstacle to energy development (and other types of industrial growth) in the United States.

In contrast, Mitt Romney has never been involved in energy issues or evinced any serious interest in the subject. While his 59-point campaign platform includes the same stock phrases endorsing the goal of energy independence that have decorated the planks of every presidential hopeful (of either party) since 1976, he opposes the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency, so there is little reason to believe that anything will change. For his advisers on energy policy, Romney has assembled a group of Bush-administration bureaucrats including:

James Connaughton: As head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality for eight years, Connaughton supported and implemented cap-and-trade programs for dealing with air pollutants and, according to his archived White House profile, coordinated “comprehensive climate change strategy, clean technology initiatives, [and] environmental cooperation agreements with our free trade partners.”

Alexander “Andy” Karsner: As the Bush administration’s assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, Karsner managed the Department of Energy’s $1.47 billion applied-science, research, development, and deployment portfolio, which, according to his archived White House profile, promoted “marketplace integration of renewable and environmentally sound energy technologies . . . [with] primary responsibility for education, conservation, regulation and efficient use of our nation’s energy resources, including federal energy management, building codes, appliance standards, and the Energy Star program, amongst others.” 

Jeff Holmstead: As EPA air chief for Bush, Holmstead was the self-proclaimed architect of “key parts” of Bush’s climate-change initiative. His interstate clean-air rule set the precedent for the current EPA’s economy-wrecking Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.

Edward Krenik: As the congressional-affairs liaison for the Bush EPA, Krenik helped craft the (ultimately unsuccessful) legislative strategy for the Clear Skies Act, which aimed to implement cap-and-trade programs for NOX, SO2, and mercury emissions from power plants. After leaving the EPA, Krenik joined Holmstead as a senior principal at Bracewell and Giuliani, a law firm specializing in helping clients deal with the EPA.

During a recent debate, Gingrich rebutted a reporter’s assertion that the fight for energy independence will remain unwinnable for decades by pointing out that it took only three and a half years to win World War II. The former speaker’s response was germane — both for the spirit it showed and the apt historic analogy. There is a world war going on right now — one being fought not primarily with firearms, but with money. The outcome of that war will be determined by the price of oil. We are the largest oil importer in the world; Islamists and other anti-American tyrants are funded by oil exports. Every dollar added to the price of oil weakens America and strengthens her enemies. Every dollar cut from the price of oil weakens the enemies of freedom and strengthens America.

The pro-American policy is the one that forces oil prices down. The way to do this is to flood the world market with liquid fuel from every source possible. The anti-American policy is the one that keeps oil prices up. The way to do that is to help OPEC limit the amount of liquid fuel available.

The United States was once by far the largest oil producer in the world. But after climbing steadily for over a century, its production peaked at 9.5 million barrels per day in 1971 — just one year after the passage of the National Environmental Protection Act and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency by the Nixon administration. The resulting bureaucratic mess has been so effective in stifling energy development that, despite the otherwise potent incentives of a tripling in the inflation-adjusted price of oil and a doubling in size of the world market, American crude oil production has been declining ever since, and stands at the dangerously low level of 5.5 million barrels per day today.

Gingrich seems to understand the depth of this problem well enough to propose the only adequate solution, which is abolition of the EPA. Romney, in contrast, has staffed his energy team with creatures drawn from the environmental-protection-litigation racket, whose essential interests require that the game play on, regardless of the cost to the nation’s security, prosperity, and freedom. While Romney’s regulators might be less pernicious on some issues than their sparring partners currently occupying the environmental-agency thrones — by approving the Keystone pipeline, for example — their one original proposal advanced thus far, awarding drilling permits preferentially to established companies using established technologies, is a formula for suppressing entrepreneurship and technological innovation.Those who hope for better from Romney’s energy advisers have only to look at their record; from 2001 through 2006 they held office with the backing of a Republican president, House, and Senate, and the imperative of a nation confronted by soaring oil prices and a petroleum-funded jihad. What did they accomplish?

Mitt Romney is a man of refinement. His personal morals are beyond reproach, and his family life is impeccable. Yet on the crucial issue that will determine the fate of the nation, and perhaps human freedom worldwide, he falls far short of the mark. Unless the Republican party can come up with an alternative candidate with a clear commitment to winning the energy war, Gingrich is the only choice.

— Dr. Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Astronautics, and author of the book Energy Victory. His new book, Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudoscientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism, will be published by Encounter Books in February 2012.


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