A Solution at Obama's Fingertips

On Tuesday, the president will deliver his State of the Union message.

The conventional wisdom is that Barack Obama will continue his "move to the center." The quotation marks are necessary because some people think he really is moving to the center, while others think he just wants to appear like he is.

Either way, this undoubtedly means Obama will try to seem as if he's meeting Republicans halfway on their "reasonable" demands (quotation marks for the same reason as before) while drawing a stark line against their "unreasonable" ones.

As much as I may enjoy it, this sort of strategizing leaves most Americans cold. As far as I can tell, these days they are less concerned with "triangulation" than they are with the creation of good jobs that aren't bogus make-work, or paid for with money borrowed from China or our grandkids.

As part of a grand bargain, the president could, in his State of the Union address, propose quintupling the amount of money we spend doing basic research on alternative fuels . . .

If that's the case, the solution is right in front of the president's face. To echo a chant from the 2008 Republican convention, "Drill, baby, drill!"

The objective case for developing our oil and gas wealth is pretty straightforward. With the exception of climate change, pretty much everything the Obama administration considers a major problem would be improved by opening the floodgates to new exploration.

The deficit? The oil industry already pays the U.S. treasury more than $95 million a day in taxes, rent, royalties, and the like. If you expand exploration, you expand revenues. According to estimates, if America unlocked its oil and gas reserves, the government could take in somewhere between $1 trillion and $2 trillion in additional revenue over the coming years. And that's not counting the increased revenues from the stimulus of lower fuel and energy costs.

Trade imbalances? Domestic oil and gas is, by definition, not imported. The more we produce here, the less we import, or the more we can sell overseas. Either way, the trade deficit goes down and GDP goes up.

Jobs? You can't drill for American oil or natural gas in China, Saudi Arabia, or anyplace other than America. Oil- and gas-exploration jobs pay more than twice the national average.

Just take a gander at North Dakota, where oil production is up 138 percent since 2008. The boom "has helped make its economy almost recession-proof," writes American Enterprise Institute economist Mark Perry. North Dakota's "jobless rate never exceeded 4.4 percent even during the Great Recession when the U.S. rate hit 10.1 percent." North Dakota, with a $1 billion surplus, and the lowest unemployment rate in the country, has more jobs today than it did when the recession started in 2007. Perversely, as AEI's Steve Hayward notes, if trends continue, North Dakota may well out-produce California and Alaska (it's already zoomed past Oklahoma), not because California and Alaska are running out of oil, but because the feds keep their oil reserves under lock and key.

All in all, the American Petroleum Institute believes we may have 100 billion barrels of untapped oil--that's 10 million barrels a day for 30 years, or the equivalent of our total imports of foreign oil.

Meanwhile, it's quite possible that the United States could be the Saudi Arabia of natural gas, with an estimated 100-year supply of the stuff, and more being discovered every day.

But what about global warming? Well, even if you agree that climate change is a real problem, the simple fact is that we're stuck with fossil fuels for at least a generation longer, in part because "green energy" isn't ready for prime time. Moreover, countries in the developing world will not significantly curb their emissions until they're developed.

President Obama is fond of saying that we need to look to China's example. They're allegedly leading the way on solar and wind power. Maybe that's true, though I think there's a lot of hype there. But okay. What people leave out is that China is hardly curbing its fossil-fuel development.

Why can't America have a similar do-it-all strategy?

As part of a grand bargain, the president could, in his State of the Union address, propose quintupling the amount of money we spend doing basic research on alternative fuels, the revocation of subsidies for the oil and gas industry, and a hike in the gas tax to pay for that infrastructure bank he wants. Throw in a ban on mountaintop-removal coal mining while he's at it. All of this in exchange for creating good jobs here at home, lowering energy costs, reducing our reliance on foreign oil, and cutting the deficit.

Sure, the base of the Democratic party and the editorial board of the New York Times would scream bloody murder. But for a guy trying to get reelected, that's a bonus.

Jonah Goldberg is a visiting fellow at AEI.

Photo Credit:Flickr user arbyreed/Creative Commons

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