Between the Lines: A risk to our very livelihood

If Rep. Kristi Noem wanted to get my attention, she did a good job.

Her weekly column landed in my e-mail inbox late last Friday, with the headline “Rising Gas Prices Aren’t Necessary.”

Considering the timing of the press release, certainly a better choice of words was needed. For nearly a month now, our gaze has been in the direction of the Middle East, as we have watched this tumultuous part of the world come under the grip of a seeming excess of political turmoil.

On top of it all, we also viewed, with a sense of helplessness, the massive destruction in Japan following its earthquake, tsunami, and, to top off all of the misery, an ongoing environmental catastrophe caused by the crisis in that country’s system of nuclear power plants.

What succinct observation does Noem make? Um, the price of a gallon of gas at Kone’s Korner near her home in Castlewood “currently costs more than $3.60,” adding that “the U.S. weekly average price of gas per gallon is up 55 cents from a year ago.”

She does mention instability in North Africa and the Middle East “has made markets nervous and helped drive up the price of oil,” adding that “little can directly be done by the United States to achieve immediate stability in the Middle East.”

Noem plans to make everything better again, however, by announcing she is cosponsoring a bill to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from “imposing harmful cap-and-tax regulations that would result in higher costs for oil and gasoline.”

To Noem, the EPA appears to be some evil empire. EPA rules, in her words, are “job killing.” And, my gosh. She notes that these regulations are estimated to increase the price of a gallon of gas by 19 cents in just four years and 95 cents by 2050.

This is not a typographical error. Nineteen cents. In four years. In other words, just under a nickel. In the years 2011 through 2015.

Every time Muammar Gaddafi sneezes, the price of gasoline jumps more than that.

Noem believes that limiting the role of the EPA “is just the first step towards a sensible energy plan that puts us on the path to energy independence.”

She then begins the all-too-familiar political rant that we first heard when George W. Bush began his first presidential campaign over a decade ago.  We must conserve, we must be responsible, we must further develop biofuels, and, oh, while we’re at it, we must drill in the deep waters of our nation’s coasts and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

One would suppose this is to happen with no oversight from that job-killing EPA. And never mind the nasty stuff that happened in the Gulf of Mexico last summer.

Right now, the U.S. consumes 20 million barrels of oil each day, give or take. And, our country imports about half of that amount. About 40 percent of our oil imports in 2009, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, comes from the Persian Gulf and Africa.

In other words, the spike in gasoline prices we’re currently experiencing can almost solely be blamed on the unrest overseas.

It’s hard to argue with the assertion that the U.S. will need to develop more of its own energy resources – ranging from natural gas and oil and coal (even though it’s dirty) and even nuclear energy – to even have a tiny hope at becoming less dependent on oil imports.

But to do so with less regulation from the EPA as Noem suggests?

Hmmm. Let’s look at the financial crisis and the Great Recession that hit in late 2008 and lowered private-sector employment by 8.5 million, peak to trough.

Better oversight of Wall Street could have averted much of the economic pain inflicted, but that hasn’t prevented many politicians (Thune, Noem, et al.) whose use of the phrase “job-killing” has become a permanent part of their lexicon, from opposing financial reform legislation that will hopefully prevent more devastating financial meltdowns.

It is unfortunate, I agree, for me to use the term “meltdown” following this week’s news from Japan. But patchy financial regulation risks recessions and job loss.

Trimming environmental regulation risks our very livelihood.

Published: Friday, March 18th, 2011

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