By Mike Pompeo (R-KS) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Republican Members of Congress.
This is not the first time Rep. Pompeo has spoken in favor of free markets for energy. As reported in the Wichita Eagle in May: “Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, wants Congress to just say ‘no’ to all energy subsidies.” He has also introduced H. Res. 267, which is subtitled “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the United States should end all subsidies aimed at specific energy technologies or fuels.” Following is an article by Pompeo and Rep. Flake, a version of which appeared in the Washington Examiner.
Details of the Solyndra scandal continue to unfold, but what we know so far should teach a valuable lesson: The government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers in the energy industry. With half a billion taxpayer dollars now likely gone forever, you would think the Obama Administration would learn. Unfortunately, it has not. The Department of Energy said in a recent blog posting, “We have always recognized that not every one of the innovative companies supported by our loans and loan guarantees would succeed, but we can’t stop investing in game-changing technologies that are key to America’s leadership in the global economy.” Translation: We’re not that good at manipulating the energy industry, but we’re not going to stop anytime soon.
By spurring development of the politically-favored alternative fuel of the moment, devotees of federal energy subsidies say that we can stop sending dollars overseas. Interests ranging from wind to solar, from propane to biodiesel, from natural gas to algae purport to provide the key to America’s energy and national security needs. Unfortunately, even some conservatives appear to have fallen for this ruse.
We can agree that having less oil imported from the Middle East would improve America’s national security interests. However admirable that goal, having Congress and the President pick winners and losers in the energy sector is neither practical nor principled.
Let’s begin with what we know: national security interests compel us first and foremost to get our financial house in order. We agree with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, when he said, “Our national debt is our biggest national security threat.” With the federal debt estimated to hit $25 trillion by 2021, the United States cannot continue throwing billions of taxpayer dollars away on federal energy subsidies. In 2009 alone, the government gave over $18 billion in handouts to a wide variety of energy sources, including wind, hydrogen, natural gas, oil, and ethanol. We simply cannot keep wasting money on federal energy subsidies.
Not only are federal energy subsidies that try to artificially inspire a market for a given product unaffordable, they simply aren’t effective. Subsidy policy toward the renewable and alternative fuels industry has been tried for more than three decades (from President Carter’s Synfuels Corporation in the early 1980s to President Obama’s Solyndra just this year) — and it has failed.
Alternative energy producers often say that consumers have just not yet caught on to how wonderful the subsidized product is. All we need, they say, are just five years of handouts and everything will be okay. And when those five years are up? These same folks come back for more because customer demand alone will not support the industry as it becomes accustomed to relying on government handouts. It’s precisely this kind of phenomenon that led President Reagan to observe that “nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.”
The constant pursuit of federal tax subsidies also keeps some private capital on the sidelines that would otherwise be invested in alternative energy. What private company wants to compete with the federal government? This failed history makes the continued push for energy subsidies by some supposed-conservatives all the more puzzling.
With gas prices continuing to skyrocket and the federal subsidy policy continuing to fail, how can we make U.S. energy policy reflect our national security interests? First, we must lift the de facto moratorium on domestic energy exploration — off the Gulf Coast, on the Outer Continental Shelf, and elsewhere. Second, we must remove other regulatory burdens, such as the threat that EPA will halt hydraulic fracturing. And finally, we have to stop using taxpayer dollars to pick winners and losers in the energy sector. With these commonsense steps, we can achieve successful energy reform.
Phasing out market-distorting energy subsidies, preventing the expansion of existing subsidies, and stopping the creation of new ones (for the “latest, greatest” technology) must be part of the overall strategy. Many subsidies, such as fuel tax credits for ethanol, hydrogen, and natural gas, are set to expire soon. There is no reason to pile on our debt while simultaneously distorting the energy market for fuel products that can stand on their own. It is far better for government to keep its thumb off the scale and allow market competition to determine which alternative energy source or sources will succeed.
Forking over taxpayer handouts in the name of national security does not change that simple truth. Although subsidy seekers argue that OPEC’s dominant position in the world oil market means that government intervention in the energy marketplace is warranted, there is a major flaw in that logic. If collusion by the OPEC cartel really boosts the price of oil artificially high, then alternative fuels should have an easier time competing against it without a subsidy.
A real conservative solution to energy security requires less government, not more. Looking at our energy policy through a national security lens only strengthens the argument for relying on free-market solutions. When it comes to national security, we cannot afford to abandon free-market principles. As the Solyndra example demonstrates, the stakes are simply too high to cast aside the single best arbiter of capital allocation in human history — the free market — in favor of misguided central planning via government mandate.