The criticism continues to roll in over President Obama’s decision last week scuttling (for now) construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The 1,700-mile pipeline would move crude oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and would produce thousands of jobs along the way, including here in Oklahoma. In a memo to employees, Bill Klesse, CEO of Valero Energy, shared the statement that the company had issued to media after the decision. The statement called rejection of the plan “absurd” and said the administration’s policies would force companies such as Valero (which has a refinery in Ardmore) to buy more oil from sources outside the United States and Canada. It also said the decision “throws dirt into the face of our closest ally and largest trading partner.” In an aside to his employees, Klesse said the administration’s decision wasn’t about pipelines in potentially sensitive areas of the country. Instead, “This is politics at its worst.” Well said.
Photo by Paul B. Southerland, The Oklahoman
The story of bankrupt solar company Solyndra keeps getting worse. Solyndra was an administration darling when the company opened — an example of green technology at its best. That attitude was reflected in a $535 million loan the government provided in 2009, despite indications that things weren’t going well. Solyndra eventually went belly up last year. But the waste continues. KCBS television in San Francisco recently filmed workers tossing new glass tubes used in solar panels into trash bins. The station reports that Solyndra paid at least $2 million for the specialized glass. According to court documents, the bankruptcy trustee said the glass was of “inconsequential value” because the cost of storing them was greater than their value. An employee for the company in charge of selling Solyndra’s assets said they did a thorough search for buyers, with no takers. But KCBS says the tubes weren’t included on the list of assets put up for sale at two auctions last year. The owner of a Las Vegas warehouse, who already was reselling Solyndra solar panels, told the station he would have bid on them. Maddening.
A federal judge’s decision to knock down the Obama administration’s six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling is just the beginning of the argument — one that might land in the U.S. Supreme Court’s lap before long. District Judge Martin Feldman, a Reagan appointee, said the administration’s decision to halt all drilling in waters deeper than 500 feet after the BP spill was unreasonably broad and damaging to thousands of Americans who depend on the oil and gas industry for their livelihoods. “The blanket moratorium, with no parameters, seems to assume that because one rig failed and although no one yet fully knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger,” Feldman wrote in his decision.
Interestingly, the administration also cites uncertainty surrounding the cause of the BP spill and the potential threat to thousands of Americans (presumably different thousands than the ones cited by Feldman) to argue drilling should remain halted. The White House said it would appeal Feldman’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit and then who knows, maybe the high court will be asked to decide whose interests are the most compelling and most in need of protecting.
Let’s stipulate that British Petroleum is about as radioactive as any company could be right now because of the Gulf oil spill. As such, any empathy for BP is, well, pretty dumb, politically. So Congressman Joe Barton’s apologetic words to CEO Tony Hayward during Thursday’s hearing got the Texas Republican absolutely dog-piled by just about everyone in Washington with access to a microphone — Democrats and Republicans.
Barton is an old hand and should’ve known better. He was trying to take issue with the concept and structure of a $20 billion fund for handling spill-related damage claims, to be paid into by BP. Barton said it looked like a White House “skakedown” — not the greatest word choice, to be sure. Yet, some people rightly worry about the White House ordering a private entity to do such a thing, arguing BP could address claims on its own and that there’s a court system to hash things out if claimants and the company can’t agree. Others note that as BP pays into the fund — $5 billion a year over the next four years — consumers ultimately could bear the cost in the form of higher prices.
Unfortunately for Barton, it sounded like he was siding with BP, and later he had to make one of those weasely Washington apologies — regret if anyone misconstrued his remarks. Lots of people did, proving the political lesson that if something over there is glowing white hot in broad daylight, don’t get near it, no matter how valid your argument might be.
Globalization refers to the interconnectivity of the world through various means including trade and communications. And oil spills. The Gulf of Mexico gusher isn’t just an American concern. While the British no doubt care about environmental damage to the U.S. Gulf Coast, they’re really exercised about the plunging value of British Petroleum stock, currently at a 13-year low. The London Evening Standard reports the Brits think President Obama is partly to blame for billions of dollars in lost stock value. The newspaper says a number of leading Conservative Party members wish Obama would just knock if off already with criticism of BP. One Tory called Obama’s conduct “despicable,” and London Mayor Boris Johnson demanded an end to “anti-British rhetoric, buck-passing and name-calling.” They can save their breath. So far, BP hasn’t generating much sympathy in the colonies and besides — no matter what the sign on the president’s desk says — the oil spill buck is too large for Obama not to send BP’s way.
Let’s see if we have this straight: At the same time an oil spill is leaking millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, the head of the federal agency that oversees drilling is fired, forced out or quits – and the president of the United States has no idea what happened, even as he assures the country he’s responsible, engaged and on task. At issue is the departure of Elizabeth Birnbaum, who had led the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service since last July. Birnbaum’s shop has been the focal point of criticism in the wake of the BP spill. She got the boot, was shoved or fell on her sword the very morning of President Obama’s news conference on the leak. Asked about Birnbaum, the commander in chief said he didn’t know the circumstances of her exit and said he’d been busy with a “whole bunch of other stuff.” That’s it? He had other “stuff” going on? Like … what exactly? Meeting with the national champion Duke basketball team? A photo op with former President Clinton and the U.S. soccer team? Is it possible for someone to be simultaneously engaged and detached? Obama appears to be living proof.
Not too long ago the British were hot about global warming. As The New York Times notes, climate change was such a big deal in the U.K., Parliament put targets for emissions cuts into national law a couple years ago. But there’s been a cooling of British opinion on warming, following months of reports about allegedly skewed science, mistakes in key reports and other developments rattling the research supporting climate change theory. A BBC poll in February found just 26 percent believe man-made climate change is happening — down from 41 percent in November. “Legitimacy has shifted to the side of the climate skeptics, and that is a big, big problem,” says Greenpeace spokesman Ben Stewart. “This is happening in the context of overwhelming scientific agreement that climate change is real and a threat. But the poll figures are going through the floor.” Greenpeace, other environmental groups and scientists who swear by man-made global warming say inaccuracies in a United Nations report and e-mail traffic suggesting climate scientists fudged numbers to bolster their research have been blown out of proportion. They’re urging global warming believers to fight back. But it’s hard to restore lost credibility once regular people, British and others, doubt your integrity and your motives.
It’s easy being green these days, but if you’re a conservative Republican it’s not so easy being known as being green. Yet the man taking the lead on alternative energy at the state level is Republican House Speaker Chris Benge of Tulsa. He wants to make it easier for vehicles to run on natural gas instead of gasoline or diesel. He wants to reward people for using solar power and wind power. Conservatives and Republicans are widely represented in the alternative fuel movement. Benge, R-Tulsa, is pushing House Bill 1952, which offers incentives for increasing the number of vehicles powered by compressed natural gas. The bill also addresses the problem of the paucity of CNG fueling stations. Benge is also pushing initiatives creating incentives for wind power and solar power. The state will be better off for his efforts.
Somewhere along the Yellow Brick Road, coal went from being the Tin Man – solid, if clunky - to the Wicked Witch. Thus an abundant source of domestic energy is being pushed to the margins. The Scarecrow in this scenario is environmentalism and the brainless idea that importing fuel from the Mideast is preferable to burning our own clean coal. Oklahoma rejected a coal-fired power plant in 2007. Seems coal isn’t wanted in Kansas anymore either. With geography that places it closer to Wyoming coal than Oklahoma, coal-fired plants perhaps make even more sense in the Sunflower State than here. But political wrangling has pushed two proposed plants to the side of the road. Lawmakers approved the plants but Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed it. Coal plants are under fire from the Flying Monkeys of the Left as well as energy producers such as Oklahoma’s natural gas mavens. Cleaner fuels certainly need to be a larger part of the power-producing mix, but must coal be trapped in Munchkinland, never to reach the Emerald City?
The old Republican oil man cozying up to Barack Obama. The young U.S. Senate liberal and president-elect backing off on a windfall profits tax for energy companies. This wasn’t Black Friday. It was Too Weird Tuesday. On the same day this week, Boone Pickens said Obama gets it on energy and the nation could finally get a national energy policy – something that eluded the current president who actually knows something about exploring for oil. Obama meanwhile has backed off on a punitive windfall profits tax because crude oil and gasoline prices have fallen so low. One of the components of a national energy policy should be to avoid punishing companies for doing what they’re supposed to do, which is bring energy sources to the market. But another runup in gas prices next year will likely have the next president salivating for a special tax. Perhaps Pickens can talk him out of it.