Opinion: The irony of energy

Just three years ago, Republican members of the Senate split with President Obama and his party over federal energy policy. On the left, Democrats pushed for a move to solar and wind power, while right-wing lawmakers backed a commitment to adding 100 nuclear power plants over the next 30 years.

But with the discovery of massive amounts of natural gas, both strategies to make America energy independent have been left in the dust — or more appropriately, in the shale.

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We have unfortunately seen what happens when energy policy is written in Washington for the purpose of politics.

Solyndra was not only a massive waste of taxpayers’ dollars, it is a poster child for the misdirection that occurs when the governing class tries to direct industrial policy.  

How many times did we hear during the 2008 and 2010 elections that “green jobs” would revive our economy and pull us from the depths of the recession?  You can pretty much count on the collective fingers of the Democrats who ran for Congress on this platform the number of jobs created by their “green initiatives.” And most of those came at an extraordinarily high cost to other working Americans whose taxes subsidized those jobs.

The irony, of course, is that energy production is one of the areas of greatest employment expansion in the nation today. These jobs are not “green jobs.”  They are jobs in, and supporting, the production of shale gas and oil.  They are real jobs, not virtual jobs that last only until the government subsidy runs out.

There is another irony here that makes the shouting from the self-anointed environmental community and its followers in Washington look foolish.    

To constant expressions of disdain and anger, the United States did not ratify the Kyoto accords on greenhouse gas emissions, an international treaty that set binding obligations on industrialized countries to limit dangerous emissions. Most European countries signed the treaty and have also introduced various political measures to prove they are reducing their emissions. 

Europe, which does not have the natural gas or for political reasons is unable to get to it, is being forced to switch to coal today.

This movement is fueled by the drop in the cost of coal from $120 a ton to $90 dollars a ton due to the United States switching from coal to gas to run our power plants. Meanwhile, China and India are also dramatically expanding their use of coal, with China adding one new coal-fired power plant each week.

The United States, of course, is doing the opposite.

What does this mean? It means that the United States will easily meet and exceed the standards we would have been assigned under the Kyoto accords by switching to gas, while the rest of the industrial world blows through those standards.

So much for the environmental activitists’ claim that switching to alternative, non-carbon based energy is the way America must go to clean the air.  It turns out to be a no-job, no-pollution reduction and a nonviable energy production policy. Rather, just allowing the ingenuity of the American market to thrive has given us a shot at energy independence, lots of new jobs and a dramatic opportunity to really reduce greenhouse gases.

It is estimated that there is enough shale gas in our country to supply our energy needs for as long as 200 years.  This coupled with Canadian tar sands oil gives us an exceptional competitive advantage in the world.  The positive implications of this for our economy and our prosperity are difficult to overstate.  It is simply huge ... and ironic.

Judd Gregg is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Foreign Operations. He also is an international adviser to Goldman Sachs.