Who Knew? John E. Sununu is Right (Sort Of)

Gar Price Crazy Talk in America!

Four words I never thought I would type: John Sununu is right. Well… sort of. In a March 5 op-ed to the Boston Globe titled “Dripping demagoguery at the pimp,” Sununu blasted President Obama’s energy policy as rhetoric without substance. Sununu, of course, is not an impartial observer; he’s the son of John H. Sununu, a former Republican governor of New Hampshire who was hard right before it was fashionable. Sununu fils served the Granite State in the House of Representatives from 1997-2003 and in the U.S. Senate from 2003-2009, when he lost to the much more sensible Jeanne Shaheen.

Sununu noted that Obama’s faith in alternative energy sources such as making gasoline from algae is a pipe dream that may never happen and will certainly have no impact on rising fuel process any time in the near future. He was also highly skeptical of other panaceas such as hydrogen cells, synfuel, and ethanol, and dismissed talk of releasing supplies from Strategic Oil Reserve as little more than a dog-and-pony show. To his credit, Sununu admits that Obama “didn’t invent Gas Price Crazy Talk.” He knows that petroleum prices involve global markets and that both parties have been guilty of telling Americans what they want to hear. He ended his piece with the remark, “It would be nice if someone treated Americans as though they were adult enough to understand.”

Amen! But this is where Mr. Sununu and I part company. I’d applaud his every word were it not for the fact that he engaged in quite a lot of demagoguery of his own. Someone did treat Americans “as though they were adult enough to understand,” and the children beat him up for it. I refer to President Jimmy Carter, who told Americans back in 1979 that the energy crisis was real, and that rising prices and periodic crises would be permanent unless aggressive steps were taken to break America’s dependence upon petroleum. This is where Sununu is being disingenuous. The Republican Party’s solution can be summed in a three-word slogan used by GOP National Chair Michael Steele: “Drill, baby, drill.” Drilling, in fact, is the only policy at which Sununu even hinted in his op-ed; he blasted Obama for the six-month moratorium on drilling imposed after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The drilling option is the ultimate infantilization of the public. It replaces basic science with the child-like fantasy that natural resources can be magically replenished. Fact: petroleum is a finite resource. We may find a new pool here and there, but oil fields are just like your backyard swimming pool: if you pump out the liquid, it will go dry. Sununu finds pond algae fanciful–and I agree–but isn’t it just as much “Crazy Talk” to act as if there are endless supplies of oil just lying about waiting to be discovered? The phrase “there is no energy crisis” came from another energy demagogue: Ronald Reagan, the master that the Sununu family served and continues to revere.

Sununu’s own words haunt him. Yes, President Obama stopped drilling for six months after the Deepwater spill. This means there has been drilling for nearly a year and a half. In fact, according to the Energy Information Agency (EIA), domestic production has increased by nearly 12% since Obama took office-–that’s more than a half million barrels per day! Notice the difference at the pump? Of course you don’t. The EIA estimates that given global demand, if we increase production by a whopping 25%, you won’t see the difference until 2030, when the price might drop by 3 cents per gallon. Why? You don’t simply drill a hole in the ground, find a nice cache of high-test, and pump it right into your gas-guzzling SUV. First, two of every three test bores are “dry holes,” each of which nonetheless costs a king’s ransom to drill. Oil companies don’t just extract profits for active production; the pump price includes exploration and capital costs. Second, even when a strike occurs, it must be cost-effective; shale oil, for example, is often more expensive to produce than what it will fetch at the pump. It generally takes many years before crude can be safely and efficiently extracted, refined, and sold.

America’s quest for cheap energy is akin to its search for a diet that will allow us to eat like hogs and be as lithe as gazelles: a fantasy. Cheap gas is over, folks. John Sununu is right to call fix-it-fast rhetoric demagoguery. I just wish the source had more credibility. Alas, Mr. Sununu and his ilk have been part of “Gas Price Crazy Talk.”

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