By MATTHEW PATE
In 1973, President Richard Nixon gave a speech launching the most ambitious and important public goal in modern U.S. history. Nixon implored Americans: “Let us set as our national goal, in the spirit of Apollo, with the determination of the Manhattan Project, that by the end of this decade we will have developed the potential to meet our own energy needs without depending on any foreign energy sources.” Every president since Nixon has made a similar statement. Every president since Nixon has capitulated to the purse and pressures of the fossil fuel industry. If there is one great failing in U.S. policy and politics, this is it.
The idea undergirding “energy independence” is one of the most honorably nationalistic goals we could hold. True energy independence would unyoke the nation from the mercurial winds of Middle Eastern demagoguery. It would strengthen American industry. It would promote conservation of natural resources and environmental protection. It would propel forward the same technological commitments that made projects like the Apollo missions possible.
There’s just one tiny problem: The fossil fuel industry owns Washington and it has fostered a false class consciousness in the electorate by promoting a false dichotomy that pits jobs against the environment. Instead of wind turbines proudly topped with stars and stripes, the oil industry equates any alternative with Mao suits and bicycles. Admittedly, the present administration has not done the alternative energy cause any great favor. With billions of dollars in dubious investments, Obama gave the oil industry all the ammunition it needed to vilify anything but big business as usual.
Even so, the numbers don’t lie. Rebecca Leber, writing for ThinkProgress.org, reports: “The big five (oil) companies have spent over $105 million on lobbying Congress since 2011, according to lobbying disclosures through the third quarter. The biggest spenders were Shell ($25.7 million), Exxon ($25.4 million), and ConocoPhillips ($22.9 million). The five companies’ oil PACs have donated over $2.16 million to mostly Republican candidates this election cycle… In total, the oil and gas industry sends 90 percent of its near $50 million in contributions to Republicans, far eclipsing their record spending in 2008.”
Then there’s the campaign of disinformation promoting the outright lie of “clean coal” and the dubious “safety” of hydraulic fracturing. The fossil fuel industry has spent more than $150 million to distract the American public from its central purpose. The exemplars of this propaganda war are the Koch brothers, founders of Americans for Prosperity, who funded a campaign to promote the myth that clean energy stimulus dollars went overseas. Then there’s Mitt Romney’s darling boy, Jack Gerard, of the American Petroleum Institute who claimed that oil production on federal lands is down.
Again Leber reports, “… oil production is up 240 million barrels on federal lands and waters under President Obama compared to the Bush administration. And oil companies hold 20 million acres of federal oil, gas leases in Gulf of Mexico that remain unexplored or undeveloped.”
What is perhaps the most insidious dimension of this war on American consumers comes at the hands of the aforementioned Koch brothers. Koch Industries and their allies are demanding Congress defeat the extension of modest tax incentives for wind energy — even though their own oil tax breaks are permanent. The Koch-tied American Energy Alliance widely touts their intention to make the credit “so toxic” for Republicans it would be “impossible for John Boehner to sit at a table with Harry Reid.” All the while, Big Oil argues its own century-old tax breaks are necessary to maintain, despite years of record-breaking profits. Romney/Ryan plan on giving them an additional $4 billion annually. For those who decry this as socialist hippie environmentalism, let’s talk about all those promised jobs. According to a report by the House Natural Resources Committee, ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP combined to cut their U.S. workforces by 17,500 jobs between 2005 and 2010.
Are some of these sources biased? Sure, but it’s not as if Big Oil’s place in the equation is neutral. So when people exclaim “Drill, baby! Drill!” they don’t mention your pocketbook and your future are under the bit.
Matthew Pate is a former law enforcement executive who holds a doctorate in criminal justice and who has advised police agencies around the country.