If you’ve turned on the television, walked by a bus stop, or visited a social networking site in the last 10 months, there’s a very good chance you’ve been targeted by the American Petroleum Institute’s “Vote 4 Energy” campaign. It’s one of the most prominent and consistent ad buys amongst the tidal wave of spending from fossil fuel groups this election season.
Launched at the beginning of the year, the campaign was rolled out in conjunction with an energy plan that calls for unrestrained oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, Outer Continental Shelf, onshore and offshore in the Arctic, and public lands around the country. The plan also calls for developing the Keystone XL pipeline and increasing production of tar sands — one of the most environmentally-destructive and carbon-intensive resources — by 250 percent.
API’s vision, which brings “drill, baby, drill” to the absolute extreme, is a one-size-fits-all energy plan that treats fossil fuel extraction as the only solution to creating jobs and economic progress.
The plan isn’t just a high-end guidepost. It has been copied by Mitt Romney, who recently laid out an energy plan featuring virtually identical proposals.
Oil expert Michael Levi has called out this strategy for being a “pipe dream” based on false promises that an all-out approach to fossil fuel drilling will dramatically lower gas prices and make America truly energy independent.
Whether or not it’s realistic, API’s messaging has put President Obama on the defensive.
In the 2008 election, Obama was very blunt about the environmental imperative for transitioning away from fossil fuels: “We can’t simply drill our way out of the problem. And we’re not going to be able to deal with the climate crisis if our only solution is to use more fossil fuels that create global warming,” he said in a presidential debate against John McCain.
Today, as the oil and gas industry spends more than $150 million on the presidential campaign to promote fossil fuels, Obama has completely stopped talking about climate change and is battling Romney over who will promote more oil drilling. This stunning reversal is a direct consequence of API’s public campaign and private lobbying in Washington.
The saddest part of the whole exercise is that talk about climate change has been completely lost. Because when you actually factor in the pressing need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today, the API plan is revealed for what it truly is: a climate disaster in the making.
By building out a massive new round of fossil fuel infrastructure that will last for many decades, we’re locking in gigatons of new carbon dioxide emissions that we simply can’t afford to emit. But somehow, an extreme energy plan that completely ignores the reality of global warming is now the “center” of the debate in Washington political circles.
That’s why I really like a new report released today by my colleagues at the Center for American Progress and the Center for the Next Generation. In an attempt to strike a new middle ground and counter API’s powerful messaging, the authors break down a more realistic approach to energy production and job creation through regional-specific solutions like efficiency, advanced automobiles, coastal restoration, and renewable energy.
The report isn’t meant to be a one-for-one jobs plan that directly counters every one of API’s employment assumptions. It also recognizes that fossil fuels are an enormously important part of our economy and will likely play a substantial role for some time to come. Instead, it tries to center our sights on a path forward that addresses environmental realities and recognizes the diversity of the American economy.
Here’s the basic premise:
The vision for America presented by the American Petroleum Institute and its supporters in Washington and across the country embraces a “drill-here, drill-now” agenda without regard to the long-term economic and environmental consequences or to the specific needs of America’s diverse regional economies. It ultimately is a shortsighted strategy that will not work. Diversifying away from these fossil fuels is an urgent and essential step to ensuring our long-term climate stability and economic competitiveness.
The solutions presented below point to a different road — one that highlights clean energy and stewardship as economic drivers that are as powerful as the fossil-fuel industry, one that is available today and sustainable for tomorrow, and that bends us away from our current trajectory of global climate change and self-destruction.
This is a vision that is uniquely American. One of this country’s greatest strengths throughout its history has been its huge size and resource diversity, and by capitalizing on the unique strengths of each region, we can harness this diversity to move toward a brighter economic and energy future.
The report looks at six regions and sectors: offshore wind on the Atlantic coast; energy efficiency in the Southeast; coastal restoration in the Gulf Coast; advanced vehicles in the Midwest; wind and solar in the Mountain West; and solar on the Pacific coast. It finds the potential for hundreds of thousands of jobs in these sectors — adding to the millions already found in the clean economy.
The report has its limitations. As a document designed to counter the narrative of API during the presidential election season, it was released too late. And as a true energy plan, it lacks a comprehensive strategy for transitioning us away from fossil fuels. (Organizations like the Rocky Mountain Institute are doing some fantastic number crunching in that area).
But there are some excellent solutions presented here with a proven ability to create jobs. And, in my opinion, the report does help establish a forward-thinking “middle” for discussing the future of energy policy.
Without tens of millions of dollars to spend flooding the airwaves and donating to campaigns, countering the messaging of powerful organizations like API is a daunting task. But analyses like this are a good start. And with enough collective work in this area, perhaps the political conversation can steer back to something a little more sane.