Is Any Component of Obama’s Energy Policy Not Shrouded in Obfuscation?

Last week, Bloomberg News’s Toluse Olorunnipa tweeted from a Detroit auto show that President Obama “slammed” Republicans for having predicted high gas prices during his administration. According to Olorunnipa, the president said, “I don't know what y'all paying right now, but it ain't no $6.50.”

Only one year before, in a virtually identical context, President Obama was singing the exact opposite tune. Then, as now, gas prices were low. Then, as now, Americans were flocking to SUVs and light trucks, resulting in record sales for domestic car manufacturers. Then—last January, in an exclusive interview with The Detroit News—the president warned that it would be foolish to expect gas to stay cheap forever. His overall point was to admonish Americans who, spurred by low gas prices, were buying new SUVs instead of smaller cars that better comport with his administration’s CAFE standards.

To recap: Last week, Obama lampooned Republicans for predicting high gas prices. Last year, Obama predicted high gas prices in the course of lecturing American car consumers.

President Obama’s message indiscipline on low gas prices raises a much more important question: namely, is there any component of the president’s energy policy that is not shrouded in either confusion or outright obfuscation?

Consider domestic oil and gas production. During his reelection campaign in 2012, Obama was quick to take credit for booming oil and gas production, climate-be-damned. He did it again during his most recent State of the Union address. Yet booming U.S. oil and gas production has occurred in spite of Obama’s anti-energy policies, as is demonstrated by the fact that virtually all of the new production took place on state and private lands. On federal lands, production actually decreased during the Obama administration. So he’s taking credit for something he tried to inhibit, a classic bait and switch.

This double dealing extends to the Clean Power Plan, the president’s marquee climate policy. As I explained in regulatory comments submitted last week, the EPA is playing word games in its efforts to sell the rule. In fact, the regulation encourages States to implement a cap-and-trade energy rationing scheme, and imposes a cap-and-trade on States that don’t comply. Yet the agency continues to assert (without elaboration) before Congress that the Clean Power Plan has absolutely nothing to do with a cap-and-trade. Instead, EPA claims that its policy is an “emissions trading scheme.” In practice, this is a distinction without a difference, and the agency looks ridiculous when it suggests otherwise.

Consider next the Paris agreement, on which the president staked his climate legacy. Here, wordplay was is sine qua non. The president couldn’t get two-thirds of the Senate to ratify an international climate treaty, so instead the administration negotiated a “politically binding” agreement, the purpose of which was to come as close to being a treaty as possible without being labeled a “treaty.” Because it straddles the line between being politically and legally binding, the Paris agreement achieves only as much as it fools the public about its power.

I can understand why so much misdirection and sleight of hand is employed by the Obama administration when it comes to energy and environmental policy. Most of it is attributable to the reality of environmental politics and policymaking. On the one hand, green special interests comprise an increasing part of the progressive base, and they believe that climate change is the most terrifying threat to ever face mankind. On the other, Americans on the whole give ultra low priority to “doing something” about climate change and also tend to be put off by green zealotry. This is why green policies only figure prominently during the second term of progressive president; they are too risky to put on the line for reelection. Even in a second term, these policies have to be sold, and, to this end, the Obama administration makes for one heckuva used-car salesman.