Gary Palmer: Access our energy reserves

Gary Palmer: Access our energy reserves

August 27th, 2012 By Gary Palmer in Opinion Columns

For the last three years, the federal government has been in mad pursuit of green energy alternatives to redefine our economy and improve job markets. In the process, billions of taxpayer dollars were wasted on green energy companies that didn't produce reliable alternative energy resources, economic growth or new jobs.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued thousands of pages of regulations that threaten existing energy producers with catastrophic fines and industry-killing regulations that smother the U.S. economy and force energy prices higher. Among these are regulations that are shutting down on coal-fired power facilities because power companies cannot afford compliance costs.

The resulting loss of 26,000 megawatts of coal-based power could power 20-26 million homes.

As the EPA continues its crusade, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission estimates that another 55,000 megawatts of coal-generated electricity will be shut down in the next six years. The loss of that much of our power grid combined with billions of dollars in new compliance costs will force American households to pay more for electricity at a time when the net worth of the average American household has declined by 40 percent since 2007.

Moreover, as a percentage of disposable income, energy costs hit lower-income households the hardest. In 2001, households earning below $50,000 annually were allocating 12 percent of disposable income to pay for energy. In 2011, households in that same income range spent 20 percent. Households with annual incomes between $10,000 and $30,000 spent 23 percent of their disposable income just to pay their energy bills, creating a significant burden for low-income elderly, black, and Hispanic households who are disproportionately in this income bracket.

In 2009, there were 25.3 million senior citizen households with median earnings of $31,354. Expanding access to America's abundant reserves of oil, natural gas and coal would be of significant help to elderly Americans with fixed incomes. In many respects, it would be equivalent to an increase in Social Security benefits.

The United States has billions of barrels of recoverable oil that could jump start our economy, virtually eliminate our need to buy oil from hostile nations and reduce the cost of energy for all American households and businesses. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management, there are 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the Green River Formation in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming with the richest deposits located in areas owned by the federal government.

The latest estimates from the federal government indicate proven reserves of over 280 trillion cubic feet of natural gas which is enough to meet the needs of the United States for 90 years. And U.S. coal reserves that are recoverable with current mining technology are sufficient to meet our needs for 249 years. When it comes to energy resources -- oil, natural gas, and coal -- the U.S. is one of the wealthiest nations in the world. The royalties from the federally-owned energy reserves would be in the trillions of dollars.

In other words, we are not broke, we are stupid.

Accessing federally-owned energy reserves must be a major part of our economic recovery plan. This will provide energy security not seen in decades as well as decrease energy costs for Americans who have seen their energy costs double over the last decade.

By allowing access to these reserves, the United States could become an energy exporter to major energy consumers like China and India. Over time, royalties would be in the trillions, some of which could be used to help ensure the viability of Social Security and Medicare.

New extraction technologies for recoverable energy resources will provide the opportunity to go from dependence on foreign energy to energy independence. Accessing these rich resources will be good for our national security and our economy and for elderly and low-income families whose disposable income is being depleted by high energy costs.

Gary Palmer is president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families.