President Obama’s energy legacy

As President Obama’s second term begins in earnest, many observers will begin to discuss his tenure in terms of his legacy — of how the Obama years will be remembered.

Many presidents’ legacies are summed up in a word or a phrase. President George W. Bush will be remembered for 9/11 and the nation’s response; President Clinton for balancing the budget; President Nixon for Watergate; President Franklin Roosevelt for the New Deal and leading us to victory in World War II; and Teddy Roosevelt for his commitment to national parks.

How will President Obama be remembered?

The news of the day is filled with the air of potential scandal. And while serious, such second-term narratives are increasingly common, and I have confidence that the president will restore confidence in the Internal Revenue Service, ramp up security at our diplomatic posts in troubled parts of the world and impose better policies that strike the appropriate balance between law enforcement and the freedom of the press. Beyond these issues, it will be the policies and achievements that children will learn about in generations to come.

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Certainly the Affordable Care Act will be central to Obama’s legacy, a policy that has already helped thousands of Americans gain access to better care. As the law is fully implemented over the next several years, citizens will judge it — and by extension the president who signed it into law. Obama will also be remembered for the termination of our #1 enemy: Osama bin Laden. And barring the unforeseen, the third item Obama will be judged on will be the state of the economy.

Although any president can only do so much to influence the U.S. economy, history loves data. On Jan. 20, 2009, the day of Obama’s inauguration, the market closed below 8,000; today it opened over 15,000. The housing market had collapsed; today it’s more than halfway back. And the unemployment rate which peaked at 10 percent in Obama’s first year is down to 7.5 percent and continues to fall. These are all good signs.

But in the remaining 1,331 days of his term, there is more the president can do to boost our economy. And one sector that could do more than its share to lift our economy and create jobs is energy.

While Obama was wise to continue his predecessor’s loan guarantee program for innovative energy programs, it will take decades for those technologies to be perfected and deployed on a national scale. Until they are, our nation’s thirst for energy will be quenched with fossil fuels.

We’ve seen the benefits of the natural-gas boom in places like Pennsylvania and North Dakota, where the industry is providing stimulus to communities during otherwise challenging times. And with the discovery of additional natural gas and oil reserves in places like the Bakken and Marcellus, the United States is on the precipice of energy self-reliance for centuries to come.

These resources allow us to export energy to other countries. Exporting our excess fossil fuels will help improve and strengthen our international relationships, and will also create jobs here at home.

Exporting natural gas could lead to billions of dollars in GDP growth for government coffers over the next 20 years. Today, Russia is a leader in natural-gas exports — and by controlling the spigot they control their relationships with many of their surrounding nations. The U.S. could play an important stabilizing role by offering more of its ample natural gas on the world market.

The president sees the benefits of this, and his administration recently approved a second application for a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal. But this is far from sufficient. LNG terminals cost tens of billions of dollars and take years to permit and construct. These costs are borne by the industry. And there’s no guarantee that any one project will make it through the environmental and financial rigors necessary. So the administration should quickly approve the remaining two dozen applications for domestic LNG export terminals so that the industry can get to work. Only a few will make it completely through to construction, so it’s best if we start them all now.

Some companies who would benefit from low natural-gas prices are lobbying against further expansion, and have advanced a nebulous "sweet spot" rationale for limiting exports. This goes beyond self-serving, and would limit our country's potential. Moreover, the president says he expects the United States to be a net exporter of natural gas in the next three or four years. Expeditiously approving these facilities is critical to making that — and the accompanying economic boost — a reality.

The president has done much to improve our economy already, and by supporting efforts to export our nation’s excess natural resources, he would be remembered for doing so much more.


Ford is a former Democratic Member of Congress from Tennessee.