Happy New Year! It’s 2018 — and it’s almost a miracle that we made it here. Let’s face it; 2017 was a year like no other in recent history. Donald Trump promised to bring disruption to the establishment modus operandi that has prevailed in Washington, D.C., for decades. If on no other point, surely Americans of all political stripes can agree that his administration has delivered on that promise. The deeper question is whether, after the dust settles, the disruption will have resulted in net progress or net loss. There are those who defend each and every decision and tweet he has made; there are those who would have him impeached and removed from office yesterday; and there are those who wish that the pursuit of prudent policy didn’t always have to be accompanied by constant editorial, if not outright inflammatory and obnoxious, commentary more befitting a labor-union boss playing late-night poker with pals, rather than the latest occupant of the office previously held by Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Coolidge, Eisenhower and Reagan.
In 2002, the Texas House of Representatives elected a Republican majority for the first time since Reconstruction (i.e., 130 years!). That also happened to be my freshman term as a state representative from northeast Dallas. A Republican majority meant the election of a Republican Speaker of the House for the first time in that same very, very long time.
Displacing Texas Democrats from being in charge of the Texas House was extremely difficult for those Democrat House members to accept; being in charge of the House and an ambitious legislative agenda for the first time in more than a century was an equally unfamiliar and difficult challenge for House Republicans. In short, it was a tectonic disruption in what had become a predictable status quo. There were those who had been living and waiting for such an opportunity; and there were those who did everything in their power to block the Republican agenda — even by running away from Austin, Texas, to Ardmore, Oklahoma, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, to break quorum and prevent any and all legislative business from being conducted. The Democrats actually tried to disrupt the Republican disrupters. They failed in the short term; the tragedy is that, in many ways, the Republican disrupters have failed in the longer term.
There are potentially salutary benefits to be realized from political disruption. But, like fire, when misused or uncontrolled, political disruption can do a lot of damage. No one can credibly provide historical commentary on a moment in history when we are still in that moment, so it remains to be seen, at a much later date, whether the Trump disruption (call it the “distrumption”) will have resulted in a healthier America or something else.
Of course, any presidency is multifaceted, and this presidency is no different. On energy policy, it would be difficult to know how the Trump administration could have done much more in 12 months to reverse the burdensome regulatory trends that the Obama administration had been pursuing for the previous eight years. Not only has the message been aggressive and constant, but an impressive number of tangible steps have been taken to implement that message. The initial shock from realizing that a politician proclaiming pro-energy policies was really elected — and is now actually following through on those proclamations — has inspired me to compile an energy wish list, which might advance from its usual place in the “fantasy” category to something closer to “within the realm of possibility.”
So, in the spirit of the new year, here are some energy-related resolutions for President Trump to post on the Oval Office bulletin board:
1. Open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas exploration and development. This controversy has been going on for almost 30 years. In 1989, a bill to do just that was on its way to enactment into law — and then the Exxon Valdez decided to inconveniently alter the course of history. Because of that event, there was no more discussion on ANWR, as if to say that one oil spill had forever rendered ANWR off limits to development. In the meantime, oil production in Alaska has declined, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline is operating at dangerously low capacity, and Alaskans are starting to fear for their economic health. National, state and local Alaskan government officials are virtually unanimous in supporting opening ANWR to oil development.
2. Open the eastern Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic coast, the Pacific coast and the rest of the Alaskan coast to oil and gas development. These areas have historically been off limits to development, in response to demands by environmentalists (and wealthy political donors with expensive ocean-view estates) to keep the horizon pristine and free of unsightly oil-production platforms. By the way, these same so-called environmentalists seem to be equally opposed to offshore wind farms. Apparently, they’re all for the benefits of energy — they just want it generated somewhere else.
3. Fast-track approval, and ensure the protection, of all LNG-export facilities, oil refineries and interstate pipelines. The U.S. now produces the most oil and natural gas in the world. We are on our way to becoming a net exporting nation for oil and natural gas. A global market is thirsting for our abundant and affordable reserves. The more we are able to fill that role for other countries, the more successful we will be in using our natural resources as a geopolitical asset. Not only will we diminish our dependence on countries that have been erratic, if not hostile, toward us, but we will be able to help our allies to be less dependent on those countries, as well.
4. Let the market determine preferred energy sources. Despite the repeated efforts of our elite class to impose uneconomic energy sources on us by spending tax dollars to excess while attempting to choke off energy sources that are unquestionably more abundant, affordable and powerful, the unalterable laws of economics cannot be denied. Free-thinking people will never choose an uneconomic option. Let all energy sources stand on their own, without artificial tax subsidies or cost distortions.
The new year is the traditional time to take stock of where you are and where you would like to go in the next 12 months. U.S. energy policy, for far too long, has usually been a caricature of how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. We have more than enough natural resources and are the clear leader in energy technology. But do we have the common sense and self-confidence to pursue and achieve American energy dominance? Well, that might require a little more distrumption.
About the author: Bill Keffer is a contributing columnist to SHALE Magazine. He teaches at the Texas Tech University School of Law and continues to consult. He served in the Texas Legislature from 2003 to 2007.