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Time to end quixotic opposition to American energy

Time to end quixotic opposition to American energy
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The continued assault on the U.S. energy sector by certain deep-pocketed environmentalists, plaintiffs’ lawyers, and some (but not all) Democratic allies poses a number of perplexing questions. One might ask, for example, why they have waged this particular campaign with such ferocity and single-mindedness: The United States generally enjoys among the lowest levels of traditional pollution in the developed world. Moreover, the United States has been a principal global leader in reducing and controlling greenhouse gas emissions over the last decade, in part because of the new abundance of U.S. natural gas and its leadership on the Montreal Protocol (implemented in Title VI of the Clean Air Act Amendment of 1990).

But perhaps the most puzzling question is why the opponents of U.S. energy are so eager to please Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin and Russia itself, in light of the favor they are doing Putin and Russia by helping keep energy prices high — thus financing what some see as our most dangerous enemy.

In this context, it is critical to remember what helped break up the old Soviet Union in the early 1990s: the flooding of the oil market in the mid-1980s by the Saudis (responding in part to our request) to lower oil prices, which in turn helped bankrupt the Soviet Union, whose budget was deeply dependent on high oil and gas revenues.

The same dynamic is playing out today with such force that Saudi Arabia and Russia have joined forces to keep oil prices high, notwithstanding their mutual differences over the ambitions of Iran, which is also dependent on high energy prices. There is, of course, a difference between now and the 1980s, in that Russia’s economy is more resilient today than it was then. But high prices are nevertheless a great boon for Putin. Low prices are not. Indeed, thanks to domestic shale gas, the U.S. surpassed Russia as the largest natural gas producer in the world in 2009 and has now become a net exporter of natural gas, keeping global natural gas prices low. Much of Russia’s past political leverage over Europe has been exercised mainly through Russia’s control over conventional natural gas supplies.

The U.S. anti-energy campaign is all the more puzzling since it so starkly highlights how much the campaigners’ bête noire — U.S. President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE — is doing to increase energy production in the United States, to increase our prosperity, and to fortify our influence in world affairs. Witness the recent growth in our oil and gas production, our emergence as the largest energy producer in the world, and the commitment made by the president in his recently-unveiled National Security Strategy to prioritize energy as one of the United States’ highest goals.

Notably, according to the Energy Information Administration’s newest short-term energy outlook (released Jan. 9, 2018), U.S. crude oil production is now forecast to average 10.3 million barrels per day in 2018, “the highest annual average production in U.S. history,” breaking the 1970 record. This is simply astounding.

Instead of applauding the administration’s approach (in part because of its challenge to Russia), the energy opponents ridicule it. Consider a prominent opponent of the Keystone Pipeline and oil drilling in Alaska, who said that allowing the latter “trades away a national treasure — for what — oil we don’t need.” So — give Russia a free hand?

All of the foregoing invites one final question: If Mr. Putin really colluded with Mr. Trump’s campaign to help Mr. Trump defeat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWoman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Trump: CNN, MSNBC 'got scammed' into covering Russian-organized rally Pennsylvania Democrats set to win big with new district map MORE, then why is the president so actively and successfully pursuing the most effective weapon we have against Russia, namely, our growing dominance over world energy markets made possible by our sustained and growing capacity to out-produce both Russia and Saudi Arabia at low prices that they cannot long tolerate?

Needless to say, the United States is not energy independent in the sense that we do not need to import oil. But the North American continent, including both Canada and Mexico, is becoming largely energy independent — a point that is abundantly emphasized in the administration’s new National Security Strategy. One cannot read that document and think that the Administration will fragment this continent’s integrated energy market.

By the same token, it is impossible to survey the United States’ emphasis on and success in energy production of all kinds, specifically including renewables, and conclude that the administration is not maximizing the greatest threat to Russia’s long-term ambitions. It was not so long ago that European references to the “Red Army” meant Gazprom and not the military. In more recent years, Russia may have improved its military position, but not its energy power.

Many environmentalists will no doubt continue their seemingly parochial and quixotic opposition to American energy. But they should remember that some of the biggest U.S. oil producers have long supported market-oriented climate change policies, such as carbon taxes or cap-and-trade systems. And they should likewise remember how well our technology has worked in recent years to reduce both our greenhouse gas output and our energy intensity.

C. Boyden Gray served as U.S. Ambassador to the EU from 2006-2007 and U.S. Special Envoy to Europe for Eurasian Energy.