Both parties are fractured, but on energy, each is unified

Commentary by Marita Noon

There is no shortage of news stories touting the splits within each party.

The Democrat divide is, as NBC News sees it, between dreamers and doers—with the International Business Times (IBT) calling it: “a civil war over the party’s ideological future.” The Boston Globe declares that the “party fissures” represent “a national party torn between Clinton’s promised steady hand and Sanders’ more progressive goals.”

The Republican reality is, according to IBT, a battle between moderates and conservatives. The party is being “shattered” by the fighting between the establishment and the outsiders. The New Yorker said the days following the Detroit debate have “been the week of open civil war within the Republican Party.” Former standard-bearer, Mitt Romney, laid the foundation for a floor fight at the party’s Cleveland convention. Peggy Noonan, in the Wall Street Journal, states: “The top of the party and the bottom have split.” She describes the party’s front runner this way: “He is a divider of the Republican Party and yet an enlarger of the tent.”

Candidates from both sides of the aisle claim to be unifiers. But when it comes to energy issues, each party is already unified—though each is totally different.

Generally speaking, the Democrats want more government involvement—more government-led investment and federal regulation. In contrast, Republicans want the free market—consumer choice—not government to determine the winners and losers.

The next president will have a significant impact on how America produces, uses, and distributes energy.

In response to frequent questions from talk show hosts regarding the candidates’ energy plans, now that the field has winnowed, I set out to write a review. However, my research revealed that a candidate-by-candidate analysis would be repetitive. Instead, I’ll lay out the distinctive direction each party would drive energy policy and highlight the minor differences within the candidates.

First, one must look at climate change, as, despite repeated failed predictions, it has been the driver of energy policy for the past decade.

The Democrat candidates believe that climate change is a crisis caused by the use of fossil fuels. Therefore, both Senator Bernie Sanders and Secretary Hillary Clinton opposed the Keystone pipeline and lifting the oil export ban. Each supports restricting drilling on federal lands and federal hydraulic fracturing regulations to supersede the states’ policies. At Sunday’s CNN Debate, both opposed fracking—though Sanders was more direct about it. Sanders and Clinton favor increased Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) efforts to encourage the use of renewable energy sources.

They would continue the policies, such as the Clean Power Plan, advocated by President Obama—with Sanders being more progressive than Clinton. He wants to institute a tax on carbon emissions, ban all drilling on federal lands, and has sponsored the “keep it in the ground” bill. She would “phase out” hydraulic fracturing on public lands, end tax credits for fossil fuels and increase government fees and royalties. Both support tax credits for renewable energy.

In the transition away from fossil fuel use, Clinton would utilize nuclear power, while Sanders would put a moratorium on nuclear plant license renewals. She supports hydropower.

Over all, the Democrats approach can be summed up as anti-conventional fuels—resulting in higher costs for consumers.

USNews states: “Clinton and Sanders also have expressed frustration with their political colleagues who deny the link between fossil fuel combustion and climate change.”

The four remaining Republican candidates have slightly differing views on climate change—though, unlike their “political colleagues,” none bases his energy policies exclusively on it.

Donald Trump is the biggest opponent of climate change having called the man-made crisis view a “hoax” and tweeting that the Chinese started the global warming ruse “in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” In his book, Crippled America, Trump opens his chapter on energy with a tirade on climate change in which, talking about historic “violent climate changes” and “ice ages,” he acknowledges that the climate does change, but concludes: “I just don’t happen to believe they are man-made.”

Senator Ted Cruz is next. He’s stated: “If you’re a big-government politician, if you want more power, climate change is the perfect pseudo-scientific theory … because it can never, ever, ever be disproven.” He, too, supports the view that global warming is a natural phenomenon rather than man-made.

Senator Marco Rubio believes the climate is changing. He’s said: “The climate’s always changing—that’s not the fundamental question. The fundamental question is whether man-made activity is what’s contributing most to it. I know people said there’s a significant scientific consensus on that issue, but I’ve actually seen reasonable debate on that principle.” He’s added: “And I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it. Except it will destroy our economy.”

Governor John Kasich’s views cut “against the grain in the Republican Party” in that he believes climate change is a problem—though he doesn’t support curbing the use of fossil fuels. His state, Ohio, is rich with coal, oil, and natural gas and he believes low-cost reliable energy is “the backbone of America’s economy.” The Hill quotes him as saying: “I believe there is something to [climate change], but to be unilaterally doing everything here while China and India are belching and putting us in a noncompetitive position isn’t good.”

Regardless of their specific views, none of the Republican candidates sees climate change as an “existential crisis,” as Clinton called it on Kimmel Live—and their energy policies reflect that.

All four agree the Keystone pipeline should be built, are critical of the EPA’s aggressive regulations (instead, they support the regulation of energy production at the state and local level), and want to spur economic growth by increasing American energy production and reducing our reliance on foreign sources.

Though Kasich signed legislation freezing Ohio’s law requiring increasing use of renewables, Kasich is the most supportive of them saying: “I believe in wind and solar, there are big subsidies on it but that’s okay.”  He also acknowledged that mandating 20-25 percent renewables by a set date is “impossible” and will “throw people out of work.” Cruz and Rubio have voted against production tax credits for wind and solar and against setting a national renewable energy standard. In Iowa, Cruz stood up to the ethanol lobby (he’s repeatedly called for an end to the ethanol mandate), while Trump pandered to it. Rubio and Kasich would allow the ethanol mandate to sunset. In his book, Trump states that the big push to develop “so-called green energy” is “another big mistake” that is “being driven by the wrong motivation.” He calls renewables: “an expensive way of making the tree huggers feel good about themselves.” In contrast, he’s promised to “revive Kentucky’s coal industry.”

Overall, the Republicans views can be summed up as embracing the positive potential of America’s energy abundance—resulting in lower energy costs.

If you believe that effective, efficient, economic energy is the lifeblood of the American economy, you know how to vote in November. The contrast is obvious.

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy—which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

Radio days volume 20

I really had to blow a lot of dust off this series – its last installment was in July of 2013 – but I will be on the internet radio tomorrow morning at 11:00 thanks to radio hostess (and new monoblogue contributor) Marita Noon. She asked me to come on this week’s installment of her “America’s Voice for Energy” program to discuss a post I did last year.

It came about because she was doing a piece on where the candidates stood on energy (which will be her debut post here tomorrow morning) and I noted to her via social media that I had done quite a bit of research last summer on that very topic as part of my “Dossier” series. She wanted to discuss that piece and other thoughts I had on the subject, thus early this morning we recorded my segment of her show, which will be the opening segment. Thirteen minutes may seem like a long time to fill on the radio, but we were rolling so well I almost didn’t get to promote my site.

Yet there are some other things which were sadly left on the cutting room floor, so to speak. Something I would have liked to fill her audience in on further but didn’t have the time to this morning was the unique situation we have here in Maryland with regard to energy. I did get to discuss a little bit about the proposed offshore wind that Martin O’Malley was trying to push, but I wanted to mention that there are hundreds of other jobs at stake in Maryland’s energy industry. (I actually did a little looking up last night because I was curious.)

According to the most recent state report available (2013) there are 401 coal mining workers in the state of Maryland, all based out of Allegany and Garrett counties in Maryland’s western panhandle. No, we’re not West Virginia or Kentucky by any stretch of the imagination but the Obama administration’s “war on coal” isn’t going to help their employment situation, particularly since these coal fields lie close to shale deposits ripe for fracking – unfortunately, a short-sighted General Assembly and Hogan administration put that resource development on hold until 2017.

The other fascinating thing I didn’t get to was the fact that cities up and down the coast are being intimidated into opposing seismic exploration of the ocean floor for the purposes of oil and gas exploration – but had no objection when they went out and did the same thing to map the ocean floor for siting wind turbines. Apparently that was a noble enough cause to kill a few fish over. Honestly, I think the opponents are very aware what is really out there and that’s billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, all within easy reach of our shoreline and extractable at a cost that would blow the renewables out of the water. (Yes, the pun was intended.)

So take a listen, either live as it happens or later on when it becomes available as a podcast. I believe there are three other guests on the show, so I’ll be curious to see what they have to say as well when I catch the podcast (I’ll be at work when it’s on live.)

Let’s just hope that the long radio slump is over. Thanks to Marita for having me on as a guest, albeit a little reluctantly since I have been under the weather the last few days. But I managed to avoid a Hillary-style coughing jag and pushed through.

Odds and ends number 79

With the winds of Jonas howling around us last night, I decided it was a good night to clean out the old e-mail box. One result of that is the Liberty Features widget I placed in my sidebar. They have a lot of good content I use for these “odds and ends” posts as well as other content – that and once upon a time I was a writer for them. You just never know when doors may open back up.

On Tuesday last I alerted readers to the Maryland Senate bill that would allow Wicomico County to determine whether or not they want an elected school board. It’s doubtful they picked up on the coincidence that their hearing will occur in the midst of National School Choice Week. But we deserve a choice, so there’s just something appropriate about this – it may even occur during the #schoolchoice Tweetup occurring Wednesday afternoon.

Teachers may be gaining a choice in how they wish to be represented thanks to an upcoming Supreme Court case. Here’s hoping the side of right prevails and teachers are freed from paying excessive union dues to support political causes they don’t agree with.

And since a lot of my cohorts in the region are using their heat, it’s a good time to talk a little about all the energy news that’s been piling up. For example, energy writer Marita Noon recently detailed the Obama administration’s War on Coal. She quotes one Pennsylvania United Mine Workers officer who says, “Obama’s actions have alienated those who work in the industry from Democrats in general.” I think someday there may be thousands of workers in the green energy field, but for now the people who work in the coal mines are looking desperately for jobs.

On the other hand, if the government showers you with favored status, you have a golden ticket. Noon also wrote about the subsidies and rent-seeking that green energy company Solar City is in danger of losing in several states.

Our fracking boom has gone bust, though, since oil has approached $25 a barrel. Some of those furloughed employees could be rehired to pump oil for export, but this game of chicken between OPEC and American producers shows no sign of ending soon.

Those would-be workers could also be good candidates for rebuilding American manufacturing – if any jobs were to be had, that is. Over at the Alliance for American Manufacturing, Scott Paul notes:

I know I don’t have to tell you how important manufacturing is. More than 12 million Americans are directly employed in manufacturing, and many more are employed indirectly.

These good-paying manufacturing jobs are key to a healthy middle class. It’s no coincidence that the middle class is shrinking at the same time manufacturing is struggling.

Manufacturing certainly faced a tough 2015. There were only 30,000 new jobs created nationwide. We still only have gained back 40 percent of the jobs lost during the Great Recession.

They ponder what the 2016 Presidential candidates will do and invite you to ask for yourself (through their form letter, of course.) The valid question is:

What will you do differently? How do you plan to help spur manufacturing job growth and grow the middle class?

Perhaps Larry Hogan’s plan is one answer, although federal intervention may be needed to bring jobs back from overseas. Maryland, though, could create the conditions for growing new companies.

Finally, I wanted to give a shout out to a long-distance supporter of mine over the last several years, one who has decided to make the leap and run for public office. Jackie Gregory threw her hat into the ring for Cecil County Council back in November, running as a Republican in the county’s District 5. That district covers the central part of the county, from the town of North East south along the Elk Neck peninsula.

If you are in the area, she’s having a breakfast next weekend in North East so I would encourage you to drop by and give her some support. Cecil County has been an interesting subject to me for several years, with Gregory’s Cecil County Patriots group being an advocate for change.

So my 79th edition of odds and ends comes to a close as my heater kicks on again. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for summer. By the way, I also finally finished my updates to the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame so the page is back up. I’m not sure it’s odd, but it is the end.

2016 dossier: Energy

Third out of my ten priority issues for the 2016 candidates is energy, where candidates can score up to seven points with an agreeable policy. You’re likely asking what would be agreeable to me, so here is a quick primer.

As you likely know from reading this site regularly, I’m in favor of letting the market determine what is efficient and inexpensive. Since oil is plentiful and relatively cheap within our shores, I think we need to allow exploration wherever possible including offshore areas currently off-limits. The same goes for natural gas, with hydraulic fracturing being a proven technique to extract both oil and natural gas. It should be encouraged, including the infrastructure needed to more safely transport it – yes, that means build the Keystone XL pipeline.

Maybe the best way to put it is that I advocate a “most-of-the-above” energy policy. Those items which are exceptions would be federal subsidies for the solar and wind industries, which should be made to compete on a more level playing field. We need to also dump the Renewable Fuel Standard because it makes no sense to grow food to turn into fuel. This may not make me a lot of friends in the corn industry, but it’s time to end the failed experiment.

I also have nothing against the coal industry, so let them keep mining and burning coal.

Now that you get the idea of where I stand, where do the candidates stand?

There are a couple more specific resources that I used for this exercise. On the wind energy Production Tax Credit (PTC), the Huffington Post blogger Heather Taylor-Miesle shared the following, with some assistance from the League of Conservation Voters:

I also leaned on a well-done Ballotpedia article for many of these candidates, as well as their campaign websites. This gives me an idea of just how much they are committed to energy as a topic for the campaign.

But I honestly wish every candidate would cover every issue as thoroughly as Bobby Jindal presents his energy platform. Even the title is optimistic: “Organizing Around Abundance.” There’s not much at all to dislike within it, either. I spent a very productive half-hour reading through the report and if he doesn’t win the Presidency we should at least make Jindal the Secretary of Energy. The next President has the blueprint dropped into his or her lap right here.

Total score for Jindal – 6.9 of 7.

Ted Cruz couches his energy policy as one of jobs and opportunity, and in that respect he is right on. He voted to end wind subsidies, and told an Iowa crowd in the middle of corn country that ethanol subsidies had to go. His Ballotpedia energy profile lists any number of bills he co-sponsored to assist in deregulating the energy industry. The only question is how well he would be able to use his bully pulpit, but there’s not a lot to dislike about the Cruz approach so I give it high marks.

Total score for Cruz – 6.6 of 7.

Claiming to want a free-market approach seemed to take a back seat for Rand Paul when he wanted to win votes in Iowa. Going to E15 full-time would be a disaster, but he supports it.

Listen, if he wants to live a sustainable lifestyle on his own time that’s cool but “well thought-out regulations” is generally an oxymoron to the highest degree. So while I like his stances on encouraging drilling and exporting oil and natural gas, Rand comes in a cut below the top tier.

Total score for Paul – 5.0 of 7.

On his state level, Rick Perry has presided over a boom in most energy sectors, although some accuse him of lagging on solar. He signed a modest renewable energy portfolio, which thanks to abundant wind resources is covered – at a cost of several dollars a month on state electric bills.

But Perry, surprisingly, doesn’t have an energy policy spelled out. I know he’s fracking-friendly and supports exporting of oil, but the key unanswered question is just how far he would allow a state-centered approach to go if it gets in the way of his overall goals. Are state’s rights that paramount?

Total score for Perry – 4.2 of 7.

While Lindsey Graham voted recently to end the PTC, there are areas of his energy program which cause me concern. (He gets kudos for wrapping it up in one easy-to-digest package, though. It’s more than most of his counterparts put up.) The nagging thought I have is about “investing in cutting-edge technologies.” Did we not learn a lesson with Solyndra? And in the back of my mind, I wonder if he still believes this after seeing five years of the fracking boom?

Total score for Graham – 3.6 of 7.

It’s always revealing to see who the Left dislikes most, and Scott Walker was declared as the “worst candidate for the environment.” This was basically because he didn’t fall in with Radical Green. He seems to remind them of Snidely Whiplash, even cutting funding for a renewable energy research center. Yet on a state level he has kept a number of programs going, even though he was also worried about the effects of wind turbines on health.

But I saw the flip-flop on the RFS, and that hurt his chances with me. Nor does he delve into energy on his website.

Total score for Walker – 3.5 of 7.

Mike Huckabee is all over the map on energy. He won’t commit one way or the other on wind, has gone from ethanol supporter to opponent depending on venue and audience, but says we should exploit “anything and everything” when it comes to domestic energy. I like the ideas of relaxing export and exploration restrictions on oil and natural gas, but suspect that green energy subsidies won’t be going away soon as he once backed cap-and-trade. He would be better than some others, and I like the America-first attitude, but he falls short of the top tier with his indecisiveness.

Total score for Huckabee – 2.7 of 7.

You would think Jeb Bush would be very good on energy given his family’s interest in oil. But he has a go-slow approach in several areas, including the delayed phaseout of the PTC and a call for “rational” restrictions on fracking – remember, “rational” is always in the eye of the beholder. He is in favor of finishing Keystone XL and opening federal lands to drilling, which is a minor plus, but also endorsed a national goal of 25% renewable energy by 2025 – that would be a job-killer. I’m just afraid a Bush administration would be a repeat of his brother’s, where we were saddled with programs such as the Renewable Fuel Standard (which he wants to keep) and regulatory demise of inexpensive incandescent light bulbs.

Total score for Bush – 2.5 of 7.

While George Pataki deserves some credit for advocating an end to New York’s fracking ban and correctly feels that wind subsidies need to be blown away, what worries me are his thoughts on ethanol. I think the jury is still out on “clean,” but while corn-based ethanol is relatively renewable and American-made, I would rather eat my corn than put it in my gas tank. I can’t eat tar sands or sweet light crude.

Like Bush above, Pataki also signed the “25 in ’25” pledge, so I don’t think he gets that the market should lead, not government.

Total score for Pataki – 2.5 of 7.

Chris Christie has a very mixed record – great for items like pulling out of the RGGI boondoggle that Martin O’Malley entangled us into, but in the same breath he banned new coal-fired power plants in the state. After putting out a one-year moratorium on fracking, he at least came to his senses 2 years later and vetoed a fracking ban. Offshore wind projects are stalled, but he has high hopes for solar. Rationalizing our approach to regulations and lifting the ban on exporting crude oil are positives, but not going after some of the biggest hurdles to a free energy market negates these campaign planks.

As a whole, though, he’s less trustworthy than Bush but hangs around that same level.

Total score for Christie – 2.3 of 7.

Making news on how his views have changed on the climate is the bulk of my look into Marco Rubio‘s policies. At one time he voted for looking into a cap-and-trade program for Florida, but claims he was never really for it. At that time he had a lot of green-friendly ideas, so I don’t know where he stands now. It’s a trust issue.

Total score for Rubio – 2.0 of 7.

Carly Fiorina has slim pickings when it comes to energy; however, her vow to eliminate the PTC by 2020 is at odds with the “all-of-the-above” approach she championed in 2010. More recently she’s tried to convince skeptical audiences we can innovate our way out of climate change, but that innovation once included support for a cap-and-trade program once proposed by John McCain. I just don’t see a whole lot of consistency and the lack of an issues page on her site makes it even worse.

Total score for Fiorina – 1.5 of 7.

Postscript 9/26: Thanks to her support for clean coal, I bumped her up a point and a half to 3 of 7.

John Kasich is new to the race, and as such has no energy platform on his website. But several discouraging acts of late give me pause: an effort to increase taxes on energy producers coupled with the reversal of an earlier decision to allow fracking on state lands outweigh positive moves to freeze the state’s renewable energy portfolio requirements and place prudent tabs on wind turbine siting. I see more of the same leftward drift with Kasich.

Total score for Kasich – 1.4 of 7.

While he isn’t opposed to fracking, the pandering Rick Santorum did in Iowa at the feet of King Corn made me wonder if he wouldn’t do the same on other issues. He once voted against the PTC but Iowa is also a leader in wind, so who knows what he will say next. Will he really stand up to the EPA? You would think a candidate from a fracking state would say more on his website and in general about energy, but Rick doesn’t.

Total score for Santorum – 1.4 of 7.

Okay, we know Donald Trump understands the economic benefits of fracking and loathes wind and solar power. But I have no idea what this will do with policy. All the hullabaloo over immigration and John McCain isn’t helping either.

Total score for Trump – 0.5 of 7.

You may have noticed an omission among the group atop the post when it came to wind. Quite frankly Ben Carson is a non-entity when it comes to energy issues. Aside from a vague reference to “developing our natural energy resources,” the biggest indicator I could find is this piece where he claims in one breath he wants a free energy market, but makes the exception for not just E-15, but E-30. If you want to lose the boat owner vote you just succeeded wildly.

Total score for Carson – 0.0 of 7. (Yes, that is a goose egg.)

It used to be that Social Security was the “third rail” of politics – touch it and you’re dead. But now I think social issues have become that for the GOP; nevertheless that is my next topic.

Maryland: contrarian again

It’s been awhile since I looked at the energy industry, what with legislation, riots, and other general mayhem. Fortunately for me, I have several sources in that industry to return me to speed and one is writer Marita Noon, whose piece on NetRightDaily today detailed the efforts of forward-thinking states to repeal their renewable energy mandates – some by whopping margins in their legislature. In those states, the market-bending allocations to renewable energy are coming to an end, leveling the playing field and perhaps saving their taxpayers millions of dollars.

Unfortunately, Maryland isn’t one of those states rolling back its mandates; in fact, the only piece of legislation dealing with the renewable portfolio was a liberal Democrat-backed scheme to expand it some more. House Bill 377 and Senate Bill 373 both were aimed at significantly increasing the percentage of renewables up to 40% by 2025 – current law peaks renewables’ share at 20% by 2022. (Both these figures are a pipe dream.) The Senate version lost in the Finance Committee by an 8-3 vote, and the House version was withdrawn before it was voted upon.

It was good that a bad bill was thwarted, but it was unfortunate that no bill was introduced to repeal these mandates. Maryland would be in far better shape energy-wise, eventually with lower utility rates, if true reform was achieved: repeal of the renewable energy portfolio, the withdrawal of the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, repealing the subsidy for offshore wind, and encouraging energy production from hydraulic fracturing and offshore drilling.

Over the course of the O’Malley administration, energy companies took the brunt of new regulations and changes in the market; in particular, their cost of doing business was affected by the renewable energy portfolio and the RGGI. If you assume the goal of the utility is to provide energy as cheaply as possible to make a profit – while keeping prices low enough to maintain and grow a customer base – having the dead expenses of the “alternative compliance payment” made necessary by falling short of renewable goals and the CO2 allowances auctioned off by RGGI as a sweet redistribution scheme aren’t helping the cause. Meanwhile, more exploration and investment in energy infrastructure could bring Maryland closer to being at least even as opposed to a net energy importer.

I wouldn’t expect any repeal of these bills to pass on the scale that they’ve moved through some state legislatures, but 71-70 and 24-23 are perfectly fine margins to me. It would also likely require getting around the committee process and bringing the package directly to the floor. (The portfolio repeal, RGGI withdrawal, and repeal of the offshore wind subsidy could be one bill: call it the Maryland Energy Reform Act of 2016.)

The trick is getting the right people to advocate for the changes by showing how much can be saved by consumers. That portion seems like a job for a group like the Maryland Public Policy Institute, while the lobbying on the part of the energy providers should include a pledge of reducing rates. Shaving 2 cents a kilowatt hour off the bill may not sound like much, but it translates to about $216 a year based on average residential usage of about 900 kWh a month. I don’t know about you, but an extra $18 a month would be nice for me. Just think of the economic benefits we received last year when gasoline skidded to $2 a gallon – benefits being lost now as prices have edged back up over $2.50 a gallon.

To help in prosperity, Maryland needs cheap energy. As it stands now, we don’t have it but I think we can get it if the political will is there.