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Energy Blog

Gabriel Ross

There’s a well-known joke in Israel: Isn’t it ironic that Moses walked through the Middle East for 40 years and found the only land without oil?

Fortunately for the Israelis, that joke has been overtaken by events. Since some of the largest natural gas fields in the world were discovered in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin, Israel has been sitting on a wealth of, well, wealth.

A consortium of U.S. and Israeli companies stand at the forefront of developing this resource, investing billions of dollars to bring the natural gas to market. This is an example of U.S.-Israel private collaboration at its finest, and we are just beginning to enjoy the dividends this partnership is creating.

Indeed, the estimated reserves are enough to supply Israel for the next 100 years, providing a degree of energy security that previous generations of Israeli leadership could only dream of.

But these reserves have tremendous regional implications as well. The companies developing the reserves have agreements to sell gas into the Jordanian and Palestinian markets, helping to link these economies to Israel through the creation of long-term, strategically-vital deals.

The opportunity to further regional economic integration and peaceful ties in a neighborhood that faces any number of challenges is almost too good to be true. U.S.-Israel cooperation on energy has the potential to have a dramatic impact on diplomatic relations in the Middle East for decades to come.

And yet, like all opportunities, commercial and political risks are present. While all companies face market fluctuations, geostrategic uncertainties in the Middle East add a unique twist to these deals. This is where American involvement, in the form of financing from the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im), is essential.

Ex-Im fills gaps in trade financing that private banks are unable to meet because of political instability. The Bank’s support gives the private sector — and foreign governments — the confidence that this project has the full faith and backing of the U.S. government. In this case, Ex-Im financing can be the difference between a deal going forward and leaving the gas in the ground.

For the U.S.-Israel relationship, these gas deals represent a once-in-a-generation opportunity. This deal is good for the U.S., good for Israel, and good for her neighbors.

While Congress extended Ex-Im’s mandate through June 2015, we hope the next time Congress votes to re-authorize Ex-Im it is for a significantly longer timeframe. If not, American jobs, American investment, and American interests will all suffer.

And, in this instance, Israelis might unfortunately be forced to start telling that joke about Moses’ navigational shortcomings once again.

Sean Hackbarth President Barack Obama delivering the 2015 State of the Union AddressPhoto credit: Mandel Ngan/Pool via Bloomberg.

The State of the Union address is usually a President’s laundry list of policy ideas. Some get enacted, while others get ignored. This one was no different.

Here are some takeaways from President Obama’s 2015 address.

Let’s start with the good.

The President hoped to be productive with Republicans who now control both houses of Congress. “I will seek to work with you to make this country stronger.”

There are two areas where that can happen.

Trade

President Obama wants to have the same authority for negotiating trade deals that every President since Franklin Roosevelt has had. “I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair,” he said.

In order to get TPA, the President will have to convince Congress, especially members of his own party, that TPA is essential. The business community will stand with him, because it knows that greater access to global markets will mean American economic growth.

Infrastructure

President Obama urged Congress to invest in infrastructure:

21st century businesses need 21st century infrastructure – modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest internet.  Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this…. Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan.

Such an investment would pay off for the economy. A 2014 study for the National Association of Manufacturers found that a "targeted and long-term increase in public infrastructure investments from all public and private sources over the next 15 years would increase jobs by almost 1.3 million at the onset of an initial boost, and grow real GDP 1.3% by 2020 and 2.9% by 2030."

Now the bad.

Energy

President Obama took credit for America’s energy boom saying:

We believed we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet.  And today, America is number one in oil and gas…. And thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save $750 at the pump.

A brief look at the facts and you’ll find that the oil and natural gas boom has occurred despite actions by the Obama administration.

Between 2009 and 2013, oil production on private and state lands increased by 61% but decreased by 6% on federal lands. As for natural gas, production on private and state lands increased by 33% but decreased by 28% on federal lands.

In addition, the Interior Department and other federal agencies are working on duplicative regulations on hydraulic fracturing, the technology that’s given us the shale energy boom.

Keystone XL Pipeline

The President downplayed the Keystone XL pipeline, calling it a “single oil pipeline.”

But it’s a project the President’s own State Department finds will create 42,000 jobs, generate $3.4 billion in economic activity, and produce $55.6 million in local property taxes annually when it’s up and running, with little environmental impact.

Then there’s the ugly.

Carbon Regulations

The President stood firm on federal carbon regulations, saying:

I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action.  In Beijing, we made an historic announcement – the United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions.

First, the U.S.-China agreement the President mentioned is unenforceable. Second, India, another major carbon emitter, won’t give up coal as it grows its economy. Third, by driving coal-fired power plants into oblivion, EPA’s carbon regulations will make power outages more likely.

Bonus: Regulatory Reform Was Missing

The President didn’t mention fixing the broken federal regulatory system. As I noted yesterday, federal regulations are a high barrier for businesses. Reform should make the regulatory process be more accountable, more transparent, include more meaningful public input, and guarantee a swift permitting process.

The main problem is the President didn't lay out enough ideas on how to grow the economy. As U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue said in a statement:

The president appears to want to divvy up the existing economic pie instead of pursuing policies that will grow it to support more jobs, spur growth, and lift incomes. This approach will consign the nation to weak growth and fewer opportunities for our workers.

For further analysis on the State of the Union Address, read J.D. Foster’s post on President Obama’s “masterstroke in chutzpah.” 

Sean Hackbarth Unshucked oysters in ice.Photo credit: brownpau. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

With debate over a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline set to begin next week in the Senate, a CNN poll finds that a strong majority continues to back the pipeline:

A majority of Americans favor the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline -- a result that could give Republicans a boost as they move toward a showdown with President Barack Obama over the project -- a CNN/ORC poll has found.

The 1,179-mile Canada-to-Texas pipeline is backed by 57% of the 1,011 Americans surveyed on Dec. 18-21. Just 28% oppose it, while 15% say they are unsure.

cnn_orc_keystone_poll_01_15_2015_800px.jpg CNN/ORC poll: 57% support the Keystone XL pipeline. CNN/ORC poll: 57% support the Keystone XL pipeline.

The pipeline has consistently garnered strong public support in the six-plus years it has been an issue, yet President Obama hasn't approved it.

Columnist George Will excoriates the President for stalling the pipeline and pipeline opponents for their intellectual dishonesty.

Will goes after the President for his claim that there hasn’t been enough time to study the Keystone XL pipeline:

Obama entered the presidency trailing clouds of intellectual self-regard. His carefully cultivated persona was of a uniquely thoughtful, judicious, deliberative, evidence-driven man comfortable with complexity. The protracted consideration of Keystone supposedly displayed these virtues. Now, however, it is clear that his mind has always been as closed as an unshucked oyster.

America built the Empire State Building, then the world’s tallest office building, in 410 days during the Depression. We built the Pentagon, still the world’s largest low-rise office building, in 16 months while waging a war across two oceans. Keystone has been studied for more than six years. And Obama considers this insufficient?

Senator Chris Coons’ (D-DE) recent comments on his opposition of the pipeline also receive Will’s ire:

But note the following, not because Coons is eccentric but because he is representative of Democratic reasoning: “Keystone means unlocking the Canadian tar sands, some of the dirtiest sources of energy on the planet, and allowing those tar sands to go across our American Midwest and then reach the international economy and our environment.”

No jury would convict Coons of sincerity. Anyone intelligent enough to express that nonsense is too intelligent to believe it. Coons cannot believe that, absent Keystone, Canada will leave vast wealth — the world’s third-largest proven crude oil reserve, larger than Iran’s — untapped. The Canadian oil is going into the international market, and much of it into internal combustion engines around the world, even if this displeases Democratic senators who have demonstrated a willingness to look ludicrous rather than deviate from an especially silly component of today’s environmental catechism.

In a similar vein, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R) reminds us in an op-ed that the President's latest excuse for delaying a decision is gone:

The President claimed that he wanted to let the Nebraska courts rule on land disputes related to the pipeline before giving it the federal go-ahead. Well, the Nebraska Supreme Court recently issued its ruling, dismissing the lawsuit and allowing the pipeline project to go ahead in the Cornhusker State—if only Washington would get its own act together and approve it.

There is now indications that the pipeline's delay has strained relations with Canada, our number one trading partner:

Canada has quietly postponed a summit with the leaders of the United States and Mexico amid tensions over the construction of TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL pipeline and other issues, sources indicated on Thursday.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had been due to host U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto for the annual meeting of the so-called Three Amigos, and a date had tentatively been set for late February, said two sources familiar with the plans.

All because the President sits on his hands.

This needs repeating: The State Department has concluded that building the Keystone XL pipeline will create 42,000 jobs, produce $55.6 million in local property taxes once operating, generate $3.4 billion for the economy, and do so with little impact on the environment.

Whether through legislation or the administration finally ending the “political joke” that’s been this permitting process, the Keystone XL pipeline should be approved. It’s good policy and good politics.

Sean Hackbarth U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue and Executive Vice President Bruce Josten at a press conference following the 2015 State of American Business Address.U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue and Executive Vice President Bruce Josten at a press conference following the 2015 State of American Business Address. Photo credit: Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

After the State of American Business Address, reporters got to throw questions at U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue and Executive Vice President Bruce Josten.

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank didn’t make it boring.

He stirred things up by asking if the U.S. Chamber would step back from previous warnings that Obama administration policies would “destroy” the free enterprise system.

Josten’s response was short: “Destruction of the free enterprise system? I don't think so. You’re crazy.”

"Go find me one place where we projected the destruction of the free enterprise system, and I'll buy you lunch," Donohue added.

Of course Donohue has never said anything like that.

We’ll see who pays up.

Here are some other highlights from the press conference:

Keystone XL Pipeline

Donohue called the six-year delay of the Keystone XL pipeline a “political joke.” “The administration’s own facts clearly show that this project will create jobs and energy security without harming the environment,” he said.

[Read the State Department’s analysis.]

“We’re treating [Canada] very badly on this issue, and I think that’s a mistake,” Donohue added.

Health Care

Because it is 17-18% of the economy Washington, “will be doing health care legislation forever,” said Josten.  As for the strategy towards Obamacare, he said the U.S. Chamber will work to “continue to improve it at every turn.” That includes pushing to restore the 40-hour week definition and the repeal of the medical device tax.

"There will be changes" to the health care law, Donohue added, because it's "omnipresent" to everything that businesses do.

Regulatory Reform

Donohue reminded reporters that the regulatory process hasn’t been modernized since Harry Truman was President.

“We’d like to see real cost-benefit analysis,” Josten said. “It shouldn’t take 12-15 years to permit something.”

Tax Reform

The U.S. Chamber is “all in” on comprehensive tax reform, Josten said. It's also patient. He pointed out, "It didn't take two years [to pass tax reform] like in '85, it really took about five." But it's worth it. “It has one of the biggest potential impacts overall on the economy and our competitiveness," Josten added.

Energy Exports

On lifting barriers to energy exports, Donohue told reporters that despite falling oil prices, “There is plenty of opportunity to export oil and gas with reasonable regulation for the advantage of the American economy to create jobs and to help stability around the world."

Watch the entire press conference on C-SPAN.org.

Sean Hackbarth U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue delivering the 2015 State of American Business Address.Photo credit: Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

2015 is “no time to be complacent” about the economy, U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue warned in the 2015 State of American Business Address:

We’ve had a few good quarters of economic growth. But we’re not out of the woods. There are many risks and challenges facing our economy that have the potential to send us right back to the doldrums—or worse.

For instance, we still have a troubled labor market:

We can’t forget that 17.7 million Americans are still unemployed, underemployed, or have given up looking for work. Participation in the workforce stands at 62.7%, the lowest since 1978, reflecting a significant level of discouragement.

“Current policies have eroded our economy’s long-term potential rate of growth,” said Donohue:

It would be a serious mistake to think that higher taxes, a bigger debt, and more regulations can deliver more growth, jobs, and prosperity. They will deliver less.

However, national leaders have an opportunity to advance a growth agenda. A new year brings a new Congress, Donohue said, that “has something to prove to the voters who elected them.” He added, "They need to legislate. The president needs to engage. Together, they need to govern."

The U.S. Chamber’s Jobs, Growth, and Opportunity Agenda is a pro-growth blueprint. Here are 13 issues from Donohue's speech that Washington can address to encourage stronger and deeper economic growth:

1. Trade.

The administration is negotiating two historic trade agreements—the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The Chamber has supported these initiatives from the very beginning.

The president has said that he is committed to finishing the job on both pacts, but he’s going to need Trade Promotion Authority from the Congress to do it. He must really fight for it, especially before members of his own party. Enacting TPA so that we can finish these agreements is one of our top legislative priorities for this year.

2. Energy.

Even with the recent decline in energy prices, abundant domestic energy still stands out as an extraordinary opportunity to generate millions of jobs, billions in revenues for government, and trillions in new investment while securing affordable energy for American consumers.

Congress and the administration should take the needed steps to unleash this energy revolution in an environmentally responsible way—and we should reform export rules so that we can sell this energy when appropriate around the world.

3. The Internet.

We recognize that the issue of net neutrality divides the tech community, but there can be no neutrality as far as the Chamber is concerned. We oppose efforts to regulate the Internet as if it were a 20th century public utility.

The Internet is one of the greatest drivers of prosperity and innovation in our economy. We need to develop better and smarter frameworks for data security and sharing—but the system must remain open, flexible, and innovative—and excessive government regulation of the Internet would just kill that goose.

4. Infrastructure.

We’re asking Congress to pass a long-term highway and mass transit bill with full funding—along with appropriate reforms. We must fully fund our aviation and water systems as well.

5. Immigration Reform.

We are renewing our call for commonsense measures that not only better secure our borders but also provide the American economy with the workers it needs at all skill levels, improve the employment verification system, and deal with undocumented immigrants.

6. Regulatory Reform.

Business recognizes the need for smart regulations. But with a $2 trillion price tag in compliance costs imposed by a virtual fourth branch of government, it’s time to bring the system into the 21st century.

The Chamber will launch an all-out effort to pass three regulatory reform bills that already enjoy significant bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. The bills would modernize the process by which new rules are considered and promulgated, bring transparency and accountability to the now abusive process known as “sue and settle,” and streamline the permitting process once regulations are in place.

7. EPA.

While we strongly support technological solutions to address greenhouse gas emissions, we do not believe that regulation of these emissions through the Clean Air Act is appropriate or workable.

8. Health Care.

We support congressional efforts to restore the 40-hour workweek to define who must be covered under the employer health care mandate. We’ll work to repeal taxes such as the medical device tax, the Cadillac tax, and the health insurance tax.

9. Financial Regulation.

We need a modern regulatory system that both drives financial stability and encourages capital formation.

The Chamber has supported positive steps to strengthen corporate governance. However, we will continue to vigorously oppose using the proxy to advance special interest agendas. We will also continue to push for reform of secretive proxy advisory firms.     

The Chamber will also seek further targeted fixes to Dodd-Frank. For example, the Financial Stability Oversight Council is considering overdue and necessary changes to its systemically important designation process.

In addition, both the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Research ought to be placed under the appropriations process. 

10. Tax Reform.

The United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world. We adhere to a system of “world-wide” taxation discarded by most other major countries. As a result, American businesses pay taxes twice, first to the foreign country in which they do business and then to Uncle Sam after they bring their profits home.

And since 28 million businesses pay their taxes as individuals, we also need reform at the same time on the individual side of the code. We need to end the bias against investment and spur small business startups, which have been lagging for a protracted period of time yet are absolutely critical to new job growth.

Republican leaders and the president all say that tax reform will be a priority in 2015. The Chamber plans to be at the table—on the theory that if you are not at the table, then you are on the menu. We will encourage genuine efforts to create a simpler, fairer, pro-growth tax system. We will not support an approach that uses tax reform as an excuse to engineer another big tax increase on the American business community.

11. Debt, Deficits, and Entitlement Reform.

More than anything else, the nation’s massive debt is being driven by entitlement costs. By 2024, federal spending will be $5.8 trillion, and more than 76% of that will go to mandatory programs plus interest on the national debt. That leaves less than 24% for national defense, important domestic programs, and everything else.

America’s leaders need to start telling the American people the truth. The entitlement crisis is an entirely predictable crisis. It demands action and leadership without further delay.

12. Legal Reform.

America still has the costliest legal system in the world.

Even more disturbing, America’s enforcement system has turned into a shakedown operation. Enforcement officials find a company that may or may not have done something wrong, threaten its managers with commercial ruin, and then force them to pay an enormous fine to drop—or not file—the charges.

Our agenda includes curbing these excesses, plus reforming legal systems in key states and jurisdictions, preserving the availability of arbitration, passing the FACT Act to help prevent fraudulent asbestos claims, and challenging foreign governments that are foolishly considering the adoption of American-style class action lawsuits.

13. Education.

We must ramp up efforts to reform public schools—to toughen the standards and measure them against prior years so that we know when students are falling behind. We also need to remove bad teachers and pay good teachers more, create more innovative charter schools, and ensure that parental choice is an option not just in wealthy communities but in all communities.

Donohue said Washington can and must work for the people it serves:

A governing center suggests you can be a committed conservative, a passionate progressive, or even one of a dwindling number of moderates, and still find a way to work together. Sometimes you can find common ground. But more often than not you acknowledge your differences and just make a deal.

That’s how governing is supposed to work in a democracy.

Common ground can be found. It's policies that create more jobs, higher wages, and a more robust economy. Let's get to work.

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