The path to common sense energy solutions

During my time in Congress, I worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to develop commonsense solutions on energy challenges. That process begins with admitting that a comprehensive energy policy must consist of more than just pursuing futuristic “green energy” technologies or resting our hopes on a single strategy of “drill, baby, drill.”

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Any serious, “all of the above,” energy proposal will recognize that America will rely heavily on traditional fossils fuels for the foreseeable future. Absent a magic wand, America cannot and will not run, “predominantly”,  on renewable energies for another 50 years, if ever.

That said, there are three simple things Congress and the Administration can do to create much-needed American jobs in the short-term, while lowering fuel prices and decreasing our dependence on foreign oil. 

First, the administration should speed up its process for issuing drilling permits for the Gulf of Mexico. Stay safe, maintain the high standards, but accelerate the process.

Onshore and offshore oil production should be done responsibly. My friends and neighbors in South Louisiana understand, better than anyone, the realities and dangers posed when drilling safeguards are overlooked or fail. Regulatory oversight – not overreach – is needed to ensure that the BP oil spill is never again repeated. Ever!

But those same community members know the risks of not producing. As the Gulf Coast saw during the Administration’s drilling moratorium, Big Oil CEOs aren’t the ones who are hurt by draconian anti-oil policies. In its recent study, Greater New Orleans Inc. called the service and supply businesses the “hidden victims” of the Administration’s moratorium on offshore drilling. The study found that 50 percent of businesses had laid off workers and 41 percent of companies are not turning a profit.  Getting these people back to work is long overdue.

Second, the president needs to end the “stall game” on approving the Keystone Pipeline. If the administration continues its inaction on Keystone, it would be politically understandable for the Congress to continue to attach a Pipeline provision to every important piece of legislation that may move in the coming months. That could ultimately result in the delay or death of must-pass bills on a range of topics far beyond energy.

Keystone has been under review for nearly four years, a troubling wait for some 20,000 Americans who could land a new construction or manufacturing job as the Pipeline is constructed. With Port Arthur, Texas refineries processing much of the oil flowing through the Pipeline, Gulf Coast support businesses will be the beneficiaries of some of the 120,000 indirect jobs that Keystone is expected to support.

The project will also lessen our dependence on expensive OPEC oil being shipped to the U.S. in tankers. While critics claim that some of the Canadian oil may be exported to Europe, we all can agree that even if the majority of that crude is used in the U.S., as expected, America will move a step closer to freeing ourselves from OPEC’s stranglehold. And, let's not forget the importance of reducing our huge deficit trade balances.

Third, EPA needs to provide oil refiners clarity on impending greenhouse gas rules. Refineries across this country are paralyzed by regulatory uncertainty. Many are not hiring or expanding because of the potential compliance costs associated with overly burdensome EPA regulations.

In a November 2011 report, the Louisiana State University Center for Energy Studies found that new greenhouse gas rules would cost the state of Louisiana, alone, $846 million a year, and nearly half of those direct costs would fall on the backs of oil refiners. This forces America’s job creators to spend resources on meeting new government regulations rather than putting people back to work. Common ground can, and must be found.

Each of these three steps shores up our energy and economic needs, while creating a pathway to diversifying America’s fuel supply into the future. By embracing responsible production of oil resources now, the U.S. can create the capital for the private companies to be partners in pursuing solar, wind, and tidal energy in the years to come.

That is an “all of the above” energy policy on which candidates can hang their hat. The result will be more American jobs and domestic fuel, not just campaign bumper stickers.

Melancon served Louisiana’s 3rd District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2005 to 2011.

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