Governors and Energy: Economics and Politics

Apparently, federal energy policy is frustrating at least a couple of governors.

When politics mixes with anything in the economics realm, including energy and energy policy, one can never be quite sure as to what the outcome will be.

For example, after a lengthy process that dated back to the previous administration, President Obama wound up rejecting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project, which would boost U.S. economic growth, employment, and energy affordability and security. The unmistakable political desire was to push the decision beyond the 2012 elections. For good measure, the Obama administration has been slowing or stopping offshore and onshore oil production, pushing increased taxes on domestic energy producers, and proceeding with EPA regulation of emissions.

Two governors spoke out recently on energy policy emanating from the nation's capital.

According to a February 26 report in, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, a Republican, provided an interesting reminder on what the objective of the Obama administration's policies seems to be. The article noted:

"‘Let's give the president credit for one domestic policy that works. He wanted higher gas prices and he got them,' said Daniels on Fox News Sunday. ‘Secretary Chu said $8 are about what they pay in Europe. It would be great. Secretary Salazar said $10 and it still wouldn't be for drilling in the places where we know there's an awful lot of domestic production. And so, they have gotten the doubling of gas prices and perhaps worse, it's a conscious policy of this administration. Maybe the one thing they set out to do and actually accomplished.' he said." went on to explain, "Republicans have leaped on comments from Energy Secretary Steven Chu to the Wall Street Journal in September 2008 saying that government needed to ‘figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.'"

Daniels added, "When you have environmental regulations that are going to raise the price of refining gas, possibly put some of our scarce refineries out of business, guess what? You are going to get higher gas prices."

While as a Republican, Daniels obviously wants to score political points, his basic economics are undeniable.

Meanwhile, a Democratic governor is none too pleased as well. In a February 23 report by The Canadian Press, Montana's Brian Schweitzer criticized the politics swirling around the Keystone pipeline. But he did so in a rather unique fashion.

Schweitzer is a big supporter of the project. The most interesting aspect of the article was the following:

"Mr. Schweitzer said Keystone runs through Montana more than it does any other state and would be a boon for oil producers. Oil activity in Montana and North Dakota has picked up, he said, but the oil has to be transported to its destinations by rail. ‘Rail is not safe, it's not environmentally sound and it costs $20 [U.S.] to $30 a barrel more to get to market, so our producers are taking deep discounts because we don't have pipeline capacity and we've negotiated that with TransCanada."

That, of course, just adds more value to the project.

As for his criticisms, Schweitzer got colorful in pinning blame on Washington, D.C. But his wrath was not directed at the administration's political games. Instead, it was directed at Keystone supporters.

The Canadian Press quoted Schweitzer saying, ""Blah, blah, blah, Washington, D.C., politics. If you want to get something a) not done and b) cussed and discussed, send it to Washington, D.C. It's going to get built. Ninety per cent of these jackasses that are complaining about the Keystone pipeline in Washington, D.C., one year ago wouldn't have even known where the Keystone was. While we were doing the heavy lifting here in Montana and in South Dakota and in Kansas and Oklahoma ... in Washington, D.C. ... all these great defenders had never heard of Keystone before."

Hmmm. Why would a Keystone supporter go out of his way to take his Keystone allies to task? Well, while Schweitzer apparently gets the economic benefits of the project, he apparently cannot turn off the politics on the issue. So, he ignores that his fellow Democrats in the White House are the problem, and instead, highlights a point, whether accurate or not, that is meaningless in terms of the substance of the issue.

Like I said, when politics mix with economic policy, especially energy, you never quite know what the outcome will be.


Raymond J. Keating is chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council. His new book is "Chuck" vs. the Business World: Business Tips on TV.