Planet Gore

Romney’s Painful Swing-and-a-Miss on Gas Prices

Dear Team Romney: when you’re best hitter is up and gets a fastball over the plate with the bases loaded, he either smashes the ball over the center-field fence or his agent starts shopping him to the Yokohama Bay Stars. Well, I hope Mitt is up on his Japanese.

Here was the most softball of softball questions from last night:

Q: Your energy secretary, Steven Chu, has now been on record three times stating it’s not policy of his department to help lower gas prices. Do you agree with Secretary Chu that this is not the job of the Energy Department?

The gentleman’s question refers to this exchange with Chu and Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.) in February. Via Heritage:

Chu delivered those stunning remarks in testimony before Congress yesterday. When Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.) asked Chu whether it’s his “overall goal to get our price” of gasoline lower, Chu said, “No, the overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil, to build and strengthen our economy.”

And Mitt struck out. You can read what Romney answered here, but he never even came close to hitting President Obama where he was weak. Here’s my version of how Romney should have answered:

With all due respect to Secretary Chu and his Nobel prize in physics, as the Secretary of Energy he has been a failure and it’s beyond me how he still has the confidence of this president. He should have been fired at least a year ago.

Just today, one of the president’s and Secretary Chu’s signature investments from the Department of Energy grant program, A123 Systems, declared bankruptcy. President Obama honored A123 with no less than a Rose Garden visit. Did I want A123 to fail? Heck no. They’re based in Michigan, where I grew up. I feel for every single one of those workers who are now out of work because A123 couldn’t cut it.

A123 made electric batteries. Under the president’s failed strategy to revive the American auto industry, he focused on investments that catered to the extreme environmental  movement, including battery makers and electric cars. How’s that working? It’s not.

What I learned in my years of business, if you don’t have a market for your product, you can’t just wave a magic stimulus wand and create it. Money does not make a company successful. Just last summer, the president was in Holland, Michigan, singing the praises of A123. Now a year later, the company is gone. It seems whenever the the president visits a company he invested in, they shut down in short order. (Turns to president) You should really talk to your schedulers about that.

The news about A123 going bankrupt is actually worse. The money we — we the taxpayers — gave to A123 was a grant. That’s not an investment, that’s what Santa Claus does. A123 sold it’s assets to Johnston Controls for $125 million. And thanks to Secretary Chu, the American taxpayer gets exactly zero dollars from that sale. Secretary Chu said it’s not his role to lower gas prices, but to make America more energy independent. It’s an odd way to go about making America energy independent by giving away money to companies that then fail.

Let’s go over the president’s and Chus’s record: GM is now selling Chevy Volts at a loss. Tesla, another government baby, just had to restructure its loan from taxpayers to help with cash flows. And Fisker, whose production is delayed partly because the A123 batteries it used were recalled, has had its taxpayer funding pulled meaning it now is free to move its operations overseas, if it recovers at all.

And of course, there’s Solydra. The bad news on Solyndra just doesn’t end. The IRS is putting their bankruptcy on hold since they’ve concluded the scheme for the investors to save over $100 million in future tax liabilities. One of the investors who would benefit from the tax scheme is George Kaiser, one of the president’s top bundlers. Again — taxpayer share of this $100 million? Zero.

But back to the question on gas prices, which are just crushing the middle class in this country. Secretary Chu is obviously not qualified for his job, from his failures in his investment portfolio to his failure to understand the danger high gasoline prices have to our economy. Americans are struggling every day to put gas in their car to get to their job — if they’re fortunate enough to still have one. But expensive gas makes everything more expensive: It’s more expensive for the post office to deliver mail. It’s more expensive for the police to patrol our streets. It’s more expensive for the food we buy to get shipped to market.

And what does Secretary Chu and President Obama really think about this? Let me quote Secretary Chu, “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.”

(Turns to the president) Mission accomplished, sir.

So, what can I do to lower gas prices when elected president? Well first of all, I will be straight with the American people on what makes gas prices go up. You can’t power your car with a wind turbine. You can’t power your car with solar panels. You can’t power your car with nuclear power plants. Wind, solar, nuclear all generate electricity. Those three energy sources are in competition with coal and natural gas to generate electricity.

Very little oil is used in generating electricity, so when the president says these alternative sources of energy — which I am committed to developing by the way, won’t do a thing to lower gas prices at the pump. In the venture capital industry we had a saying. What the president is proposing with his focus on electric cars is a 50 year solution, not a five year solution. Electric cars with magical batteries might one day be the norm, but we’re not going to be there for a long time. And the president is bankrupting us right now to get us to what he thinks will be the future of the American auto industry.

So, how can we bring down gas prices? First, recognize that oil is a commodity that is traded in dollars. We have Ben Bernanke printing dollars as if our currency were Monopoly money. When our dollar is worth less, the price of commodities traded in dollars rise. And we see that today with food, oil, gold and every other commodity that is traded in dollars. The price of those commodities has skyrocketed.

You can guarantee that when I’m president, Mr. Bernanke and his love of easy money will not be around for a third term.

Second, refining capacity in the United States drives gas prices. For example, the recent price spike of gas prices in California is directly tied to two major refiners who have stopped production. There’s lots of oil out there, but the bottleneck is turning oil into products we can use. We need more refineries in America and we need smarter regulations that can get them built.

We’ve added capacity at our refineries, but the last significant one was built in 1977. If we add refinery capacity and make the regulations smarter, we can get this done.

Third, we have to increase our oil production here at home. I read a news report just the other day that there’s no incentive for gulf nations to increase production as their oil is worth more to them in the ground — like in a bank — than out on the open market.

And finally, oil prices will go up when tensions in the Middle East rise. And what we see on our televisions on a daily basis is the president’s Middle East policy in meltdown. Our ambassador in Libya is dead. Our allies in Russia and China are blocking the UN Security Council from doing anything to keep Syria’s Assad from killing his people in. And because of the lack of international action, Syria has allowed al Qaeda and other extremists to gain a foothold in the revolution. And Syria gets worse every day with extremists attempting to draw Turkey into the conflict and tens of thousand of refugees fleeing Syria to her neighbors. We just sent American troops to help Jordan deal with the Syrian refugees. And in Egypt, the government is now run by the Muslim Brotherhood. We make grand speeches about human rights abuse in the Arab world, yet say nothing when Saudi Arabia sends troops to Bahrain to shut don’t pro-democracy protests and we do nothing when brave Iranians stand up to their government, only to see their efforts crushed under the boots of the Ahmadinejad.

But we still need to do more to end the cycle of spiking gas prices sending our economy into recession. We do need to fundamentally shift how we power our cars, but the president’s idea for electric cars was wrong from day one. My friends at MSNBC have this great ad in front of the Hoover Dam. They, rightfully so, talk about how government does have a role to play in infrastructure spending.

My plan is simple. America is experiencing one of the greatest energy booms in the history of the world: natural gas. We have lots of it and it’s cheap. Government can, and should help consumers, companies and local governments take advantage of this cheap energy by developing a regional natural gas refueling infrastructure. Once we are committed to putting the infrastructure in place, the American car industry will have no risk of adding natural-gas powered vehicles to consumers.

We already have the technology to make a car powered by natural gas. There’s no new science to invent. No exotic metal to dig out of the ground to turn into a battery. We can do this fast. We can do it cheaply. And we can do it in such a way that the government — like fronting the cost of Hoover Dam — gets paid back in full for its investment.

I know that’s a longer answer than you were probably expecting, but I hope I’ve convinced you that unlike Secretary Chu, my energy secretary will darn well know it’s his job to get gasoline prices down and that what we’re going to to in a Romney administration.

But, alas, we got into a nerd fight on how much federal land and permits have or haven’t been allocated for domestic oil production. The good news is the next debate is on national security and Romney should get another crack at the energy question. Stay tuned.

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