Posted by: ericgrimsrud | May 20, 2015

What is Obama’s fossil fuel plan?

In contemplating that question, I will admit that I am not sure I understand what President Obama is presently doing.  On one hand, he gives speeches in which he appropriately describes the great danger man-caused warming poses to mankind  and very forcefully urges the development of the alternate renewable sources of energy.  Then at the same time he supports an “all of the above” energy policy within the USA that includes the continued development of our sources of gas and oil.  As a specific example, if he is indeed aware of the primary cause of man-caused global warming, why would he be supporting our installation of off-shore drilling facilities in the Arctic Ocean?  (for a recent report on this topic see huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/19/climate-change-polar-pioneer-seattle_n_7306298.html)  Since our climate scientists tell us that the world already has far more readily available fossil fuel reserves than it can afford to use, why would Obama support efforts to find more?

While I am not at all sure that I understand what’s happening here, I suspect that some of  it is driven by the same “logic” that I saw while living in the fossil-fuel-rich state of Montana for some 35 years.  In that state, even its most progressive Democrats tried to be the leading cheerleaders for Montana’s development and export of its gas, oil, and even coal.  These Democrats included Montana’s then Governor, Schweitzer and present Governor Bullock, and its two Democratic Senators, Baucus and Tester. While these Democrats acknowledged the threat posed by climate change, they also favored an “all of the above” policy which I then considered to be a “cop out” (see my previous post at ericgrimsrud.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/the-all-of-the-above-cop-out/) for anyone who claims to understand the global warming problem.

What I learned from my Montana experience is that the politicians there do not dare to grow too strong a conscience concerning the AGW problem because they know that if they did, they would be immediately replaced in the next election cycle.  The fossil fuel lobby in that state has far deeper pockets than its environmental lobbies.  At our national level, however, I don’t think such a face-off would be as one-sided and I could imagine that a strong environmental stance could actually prove to be a winner for the Democrats. Thus, I am still puzzled by President Obama’s present encouragement of gas and oil developments.

Therefore, in an attempt to see a positive side to Obama’s actions, I am tempted to guess that his reasoning might be along the following lines.  In the last decade with the technical breakthroughs of gas and oil recovery in North Dakota, the USA has become one of the main suppliers of these two commodities in the world. Therefore, the US is now in a much better position to affect and even set global prices for gas and oil.  If the USA can create a glut of these two commodities so that their retail prices plunge and stay low for a decade or so, perhaps the development of the more expensive and dirty forms of fossil fuels, such as those derived from tar sands and shale, would be terminated for financial reasons. The removal of these virtually inexhaustible supplies of  dirty fossil fuels as well as coal from the market place would constitute a great improvement in our long-term prospects for survival.

If this is what President Obama is thinking, his next challenge would then be to limit the amount of gas and oil that the world burns in the coming decade probably via an increasingly stiff price on carbon. While that would also be no small task, it would be much more manageable than our current situation in which the developers of the non-traditional fossil fuels derived from tar sand and shale are understandably desperate to see a pay-day for their huge investments. While their losses might be considered unfortunate, that does not constitute an argument.  Sympathy for the losers has never been a driving force in our economy.  If it were, we would all be driving Edsels today.

If my speculations expressed here have any merit, we must hope that the next President of the USA is also not fond of “Lemons”, as our present Republican leadership seems to be.  Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, boasts that one of his first orders of business when (and if, he should have added)  his party captures the Executive Branch in 2016 will be to give a green light to the Keystone XL Pipeline, thereby opening that spigot between the vast Canadian tar sands and the markets of the world.

Again, I do not claim to know exactly what President Obama’s strategy is but trust his level of integrity and intelligence enough to hope that something beneficial might be in the works. While I clearly hope so, I would also welcome any other thoughtful ideas you might like share on this post via its “comment” section.


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