By Drew Johnson – The new national jobs report is brutal.
The economy only created 74,000 positions last month. That’s well under the rate of population inflation. And about 350,000 unemployed people simply quit their job search. Now, roughly one in ten Americans is stuck outside the labor market.
President Obama claims to care about putting people back to work. His record, however, tells a different story. For example, his administration has taken every available opportunity to suppress the one industry ripest for job growth: the oil and natural gas sector.
The energy industry already supports over 9 million jobs throughout the country. And they’re precisely the kind we need: well paying, stable and technically sophisticated, but not requiring extensive formal schooling. The average oil and gas job pays $12,000 above the median wage in the overall economy.
Thanks to the recent development of more effective tools for exploration and excavation, America is now undergoing an energy renaissance. The U.S. is on track to be the top energy producer on the planet within just a few years…but only if lawmakers stay out of the way.
Private sector growth depends on a non-intrusive policy environment. And, unfortunately, this White House has decided to needlessly hamper the energy industry and choke off new job creation.
For starters, the Obama administration is aggressively blocking drilling on public lands.
During the last year of the George W. Bush presidency, the federal government handed out 1,874 leases and 6,444 permits for energy development on government territories. In 2010 — the most recent year of data — the Obama administration dispensed just 1,053 leases and 3,963 permits — a 44 percent and 33 percent drop, respectively.
A big reason for this decline is bureaucratic foot-dragging. Officials are subjecting energy entrepreneurs to unreasonable delays. The non-partisan Government Accountability Office has calculated that for 91 percent of lease applications this administration has failed to make a ruling within 60 days of submission, as required by law.
And when they’re not delaying, Obama regulators are arbitrarily revoking access to public lands granted by previous administrations. In 2009, for instance, the federal Bureau of Land Management rescinded 71 drilling leases in Utah. The next year, it cancelled 91,000 acres worth of permitting in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.
If this administration would reverse course and allow expanded energy development on public lands, the benefits to the job market would be immense. A return to Bush administration-rates of leasing and permitting would increase domestic oil production on federal lands from 7 million barrels to 13 million barrels a year. And that production uptick would create up to 30,000 new jobs.
Next, the White House struck an anti-job pose on the issue of Keystone XL, the planned pipeline that would transport an estimated 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Canadian shale formations to American refineries in the Gulf Coast. The President still hasn’t given full approval for its construction, despite the fact that his own State Department officially determined that the pipeline is safe and environmentally friendly.
Ending the needless delays and allowing the Keystone project to move forward would immediately create about 20,000 new manufacturing and construction jobs.
Given its astonishing employment potential, it’s no wonder Keystone has a broad, bipartisan base of supporters, including Bill Clinton, Warren Buffet, President George W. Bush and 62 sitting senators. The most recent public polling shows that 82 percent of Americans favor full approval of Keystone, as well.
This administration has also been inexcusably slow in loosening restrictions on energy exports. Our supply of oil, natural gas, coal and gasoline now exceeds domestic demand. Producers are eager to ship surplus product to foreign markets.
Unfortunately, antiquated federal laws severely restrict their ability to do that. The 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act bans most crude oil exports. Further, the application process for shipping out natural gas is notoriously slow, selective and costly.
Overturning these needless restrictions would, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, boost annual American exports by $4 billion. Most of those new revenues would be invested back into domestic energy operations, leading to more jobs and opportunity for a workforce desperate for both.
If the President were really committed to getting Americans back to work, he’d halt his crusade against the energy industry. The oil and natural gas sector is ripe for future job growth. Policymakers just need to get out of the way.
Drew Johnson is a senior fellow at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational organization dedicated to a smaller, more responsible government.