An Election-Night Win For Domestic Energy Jobs

by Ben Lieberman on November 4, 2010

Draw up a map of the U.S. and shade in the regions that rely on energy jobs – places like Appalachia, the Rockies, western Gulf states, Alaska – and that’s where we saw some of the strongest anti-Obama sentiment succeeding on election day.
With few exceptions, the only Democratic congressional candidates who won in these areas were those able to distance themselves from President Obama’s energy policies – or to be more accurate, his anti-energy policies. In its first two years, the Obama administration has tried to slam the door shut on domestic production of coal, oil, and natural gas.
But now, many of the administration’s Congressional allies in this effort have gotten a pink slip from their constituents. Obama will soon have to contend with a Congress that sees increased supplies of affordable domestic energy – and the increased jobs that go with it – as things worth fighting for rather than against.
Most notably, costly global warming legislation proved to be political poison. Many Senate incumbents can only be grateful that the administration-endorsed cap-and-trade bill never came to a vote in the upper chamber, as the House-passed version was a major factor in defeating more than two dozen of its supporters. This includes longtime Democratic incumbent Rick Boucher whose rural Virginia district has a number of coal mines.
Voters throughout Appalachia correctly saw cap-and-trade as an energy tax designed to raise the cost of coal and other fossil fuels in order to drive them out of the marketplace. They didn’t like the implications for their electric bills, and they certainly didn’t like the implications for coal mining jobs. In addition to cap-and-trade, attempts by the Environmental Protection Agency to deny new coal mine permits added to the voter outrage throughout coal country. And on top of concerns about coal mining jobs, voters in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan that need affordable coal to maintain manufacturing jobs sent home incumbents who voted for cap-and-trade.
Cap-and-trade was every bit as unpopular in other energy producing regions, including the West where Rep. Harry Teague of New Mexico suffered the same fate as Boucher. The administration’s efforts to reduce oil and natural gas production on federal lands were also a factor. Obama’s Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar quickly earned a reputation as Secretary No on oil and gas drilling throughout the Rocky Mountain region, blocking many already-approved leases and issuing a record-low number of new ones. The region has the highest unemployment in the nation, and killing high-paying oil and gas industry jobs there was not well received on election day. Another November 2nd victim was Obama supporter John Salazar, incumbent Congressman from an energy-rich but job poor Colorado district – and Ken Salazar’s brother.
It is also worth noting that the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, hyped by President Obama in a nationwide address as “the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced,” had little impact on the elections. If anything, it was the administration’s attempt to parlay the spill into a deepwater drilling moratorium that sparked anger amongst voters in the Gulf region. Obama’s overreach has already killed jobs in Louisiana and neighboring states. The only reason the moratorium did not play a bigger role in the elections there was that it was denounced by candidates of both parties.
The same is true in Alaska. Nowhere is the energy industry more important to a state economy than in Alaska. And there, the Obama administration has reached a dubious milestone – for the first time in decades, virtually all energy exploration activities in the state have come to a halt. As with Louisiana, the only reason energy wasn’t a bigger issue was that every major candidate had strongly disagreed with the administration and vowed to fight it on issues like opening portions of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and National Petroleum Reserve and allowing exploration in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
In sum, just about every place in America where there is energy below the ground there were angry voters above it on November 2. The mandate is clear and now it is up to the incoming Congress to bring to Washington something that has been missing for the past two years – a policy that favors American energy production and jobs.

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