Here’s something President Obama and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have in common: Both anchor their plans for the nation’s economic recovery on energy-sector jobs.
In Obama’s case, it’s green jobs in the renewable-energy sector.
In Perry’s case, it’s jobs in the oil sector.
In reality, neither would likely make a major dent in the nation’s unemployment level.
Perry on Friday laid out a series of energy proposals that he presented as “phase one” in his plan for economic recovery. The proposals--expand drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic Ocean, the south Atlantic, the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, and Western states--are essentially an oil industry wish list. That comes as no surprise from a GOP Texas governor whose biggest campaign contributions have always come from the oil industry.
Making his first major policy speech, Perry also said he would stall new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on coal-plant pollution, and took aim at the agency’s new climate-change regulations. These are the same rules Perry has fought aggressively in Texas, and which congressional Republicans have been skewering weekly on the House floor.
What’s new about the old proposal is that, just as Obama once framed his proposed cap-and-trade and clean-energy mandates as “green jobs” creators, Perry is now presenting drilling and regulation rollbacks as a plan to create an estimated 1.2 million new jobs.
In both cases, it appears that Perry and Obama had an energy plan they wanted to push, and sought to fit it into a message about voter’s top concern: jobs.
”What’s striking is, like Obama, Perry is trying to turn to the energy industry as a job magician. And it’s unclear that that is even remotely the case,” said a former Clinton White House aide who works on energy issues, but asked to speak anonymously in order to be candid. “The only bipartisan thing in energy policy right now is looking for it to magically create jobs.”
It’s not clear how the Perry campaign came up with the 1.2 million jobs number, but energy policy experts say it appears to be drawn from a publicity campaign by the American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying arm of the oil industry. For the past year, API has been running ads claiming that opening up U.S. public lands and waters to aggressive drilling would create 1 million jobs.
API, naturally, was delighted with the speech. “It’s so important to have presidential candidates out there talking about the resources we have out there,” Rayola Douger, senior economic advisor for API, said of Perry’s speech. “We can bring 1 million jobs to the market in the decade if given [the] opportunity to do this development. Until now, no one but the oil and gas industry has been saying this.”
It’s probably true that both mandating clean-energy development and aggressively pushing offshore drilling would create some new jobs. But the number of jobs in each of those sectors only represents about 1 percent of the economy.
That a hard-right conservative candidate would seize on energy production and environmental regulation as his first line of attack against the sitting president is new in the political arena, said Kevin Book, an analyst with ClearView Energy Partners LLC. The linking of energy production to job creation and environmental rules to job stagnation signals that both issues are likely to be central to the rest of the 2012 election narrative.
“You haven’t seen this before,” said Book. “Energy’s always been a supporting plank of the economy – now it’s being sold as a driver.”
“You have a situation where environmental policy is a differentiating point. Energy and environment used to be also-rans. It really says something about politicization of energy, and of the EPA,” Book said.
Republicans have been attacking EPA for the last year as a symbol of a government overregulation of industry, as the agency begins the process of rolling out nearly a dozen new environmental rules reining in pollution from coal plants and oil refineries. Although some of the rules were recently written, many date back to the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, a law signed by President George H.W. Bush, and are only now being implemented for the first time. The pileup of delayed rules has led to unprecedented levels of EPA action, which has industry grumbling.
Perry tapped into that in his Friday speech, using the current rhetoric of his party to frame the rules as job destroyers. “If they have their way in shutting down gas and coal production, the Obama legacy will be more than 2.4 million energy jobs lost in oil, gas, and coal,” he told steel mill workers outside of Pittsburgh. “ The choice this election is between two very different visions for our country.”
One big difference between Obama’s and Perry’s energy-jobs plans is a president’s ability to push it through. While it’s likely that Obama’s plan could have generated jobs in the renewable sector, there’s no way to know how many, since none of his climate or green-energy bills made it through Congress -- nor are they likely to as long as Republicans control one chamber.
But if he were president, Perry could use executive authority to start new drilling, bypassing Congress and assuring that his drilling plan might actually come to pass.
On the other hand, rolling back the EPA rules – some of which are mandated by Supreme Court decisions -- would likely be extremely difficult. Efforts to block them would surely get bogged down in legal challenges. Although Perry did offer an enterprising way to solve that problem, too: the creation of new federal environmental courts to expedite lawsuits against EPA.