Big squeeze at the pump hurts middle class

President Obama's controversial decision to block construction of the Keystone XL pipeline garnered a good deal of attention because it canceled 20,000 jobs and declined 510,000 barrels of oil per day from our ally Canada.

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Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. It's standard operating procedure for an administration that cancels oil and natural gas leases on federal lands, closes offshore areas to development, and impedes development of oil shale.

Such actions not only perpetuate American dependence on expensive foreign oil from hostile regions, they deprive American families and small businesses of jobs and growth generated by development of our natural resources.

During campaign stops, President Obama claims to favor an "all-of-the-above" energy approach, but his recent budget tells the sad truth. It shows declining revenues from offshore drilling due to decreased oil production, which is a direct outcome of his policies.

Onshore energy production on federal lands under this administration fares no better. The total onshore acreage leased in 2009 and 2010 is the lowest in more than two decades.

Leases to responsibly extract oil, natural gas, as well as minerals such as gold and copper, from public lands generate federal revenue and create long-term, high-paying jobs.

These are real "shovel-ready" projects and proven economic multipliers, benefitting small businesses from restaurants, lodging and gas stations to construction companies, building suppliers and real estate.   

The White House will tell you oil production is up during the president's term. They fail to mention increased production is happening on private lands. North Dakota produced nearly 16 million barrels of oil in January 2011, up from two million in January 2002. That production is on state and private land where the administration cannot impede development. Any increase in oil and natural gas production is occurring in spite of White House policy.

The hostility to resource development has dire economic implications beyond oil and gas. Roughly 85 percent of my home state of Nevada is federally controlled. Nevada also has the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 12.6 percent (Dec. 2011).

At 16.1 percent (Dec. 2011), the unemployment rate in Yerington is the highest in Nevada. I recently introduced legislation to convey approximately 10,000 acres of federal land to the City of Yerington for economic development. The city plans to leverage infrastructure investments being made by Nevada Copper at the privately-owned Pumpkin Hollow project.

The mine could create up to 800 jobs with operations projected to run through 2034. Existing small businesses already benefit from the exploration activities and the community expects an uptick in new business growth. Thanks to private investment from Nevada Copper and public vision from the community stakeholders, Yerington is taking control of its future.

However, this vision for a prosperous future is threatened by the administration's commitment to big government. On top of the years that it takes to dispose of federal land due to bureaucratic delays, the president has proposed a "dirt tax" based on the amount of earth moved during mining in addition to the minerals produced. The administration estimates this would take at least $1.8 billion annually from communities like Yerington.

Thanks to the president's misguided policies, working and middle class Americans in towns just like Yerington are being squeezed by high gas prices on one side and the lack of jobs and economic growth on the other.

There is a solution. House Republicans have passed bipartisan legislation to expand American energy production in order to stabilize energy prices and create jobs. I also plan to introduce legislation to expedite transfer of federal lands to local control for economic development.
  
These are common-sense efforts that the president should support instead of continuing to put Americans between his policies and a hard place.

Rep. Amodei (R-Nev.) serves on the Committee on Natural Resources, as well as the Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Veterans Affairs.