U.S. Energy policy is ‘not broke, just crazy’; critics offer antidotes

OKLAHOMA CITY — Decrying quirks in U.S. energy regulations, Gary Palmer of the Alabama Policy Institute says, “We’re not broke. We’re just crazy.”

Palmer, speaking at a conference on Energy and Federalism, wants states to reform judicial consent decrees. He argues that court decisions with finality are always preferable to consent decrees, which lay the basis for endless regulatory changes driven by anti-energy agendas.

Palmer and other analysts assailed what they deemed inept U.S. environmental policies impeding energy independence and economic growth.

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., in a closing speech at last week’s summit on Energy & Federalism, sketched his spending worries, observing, “You can’t be in Oklahoma City and not think about energy. If we get energy right, those other mistakes we’ve made can be rectified.

“The goal in energy [policy] should be to make us more competitive than any country,” he said, asserting that “this president is responsible” for failing to do so.

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), a free-market think tank, sponsored the summit.

Tom Pricesenior vice president at Oklahoma’s Chesapeake Energy, advocated a state-based system of regulation, rather than the steady increase in U.S. government power witnessed over the last two decades.

Price asked, rhetorically, “Will we have a federal government that imposes an imperial ideology including heavy-handed environmental restrictions that prevent the U.S. domestic energy industry from becoming the game changer in both domestic and foreign policy?

“Or, will regulators and legislators recognize that the oil and gas industry in our country has been well served by state regulatory oversight for decades?”

Donald Mason, a former Ohio Public Utilities Commissioner, quipped, “Sometimes federal regulations are well-intended and misguided, and other times federal regulation is not well-intended and it is misguided.” Pointing to emissions data form Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland, he said markets do a better job of lowering emissions than command model regulations.

A 33-year veteran federal employee with the Environmental Protection Agency— Dr. David Schnare – left the regulatory body last year when he became convinced it had “lost its way.” EPA now seeks control over the U.S. economy, rather than environmental protection, he said, while calling “sustainability” an ambiguous code word for managed scarcity.

Schnare, of the Center for Environmental Institute at the Thomas Jefferson Institute,applauded litigation partnerships among states, paralleling state regulatory reforms, to offset federal overreach.

Speakers pointed to a new D.C. Appeals Court decision as grounds for optimism. The judicial panel ruled 2-1 that EPA overstepped its authority in forcing emissions restrictions on “upwind” states. Still in the judicial system is a multistate effort that includes Oklahoma, pushing back against the EPA’s drive to fashion regulatory remedies to limit “regional haze” across state lines.

Carl Graham of the Montana Policy Institute assailed “Landlords and Luddites.” The former includes the federal government itself, which he said has blocked energy development in the Mountain West.

Graham contrasted the limited resource development picture in his state, with booming energy development — and, not coincidentally, in state government revenue growth — in North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas and other Central States.

Trent England of the Freedom Foundation in Washington state, praised the American founders’ concept of federalism. “The founders were really finders,” he said, noting that federalism developed from practical, not theoretical, governing systems that advanced enterprise and liberty.

Dana Murphy, one of Oklahoma’s current trio of corporation commissioners, pointed to the Sooner State’s longtime use of hydraulic fracturing as a successful example of state management of resource development.

Bill Whitsitt, executive vice president for Devon Energyechoed Murphy’s point. He touted public relations initiatives from his firm and other firms to “tell the story” of American energy, including environmental progress.

The summit opened a week ago with an evening at Chesapeake Energy, followed by a full-day of proceedings at the Devon Energy Tower, the tallest building in Oklahoma and the most recently constructed skyscraper in the southwest United States.

Devon Energy President Larry Nichols  addressed a luncheon session. University of Oklahoma Professor J. Rufus Fears presented an historical review of the state’s oil entrepreneurs.

Other speakers at the summit included James Carafino and Matt Mayer of the Heritage Foundation, U.S. James Lankford of Oklahoma City, and U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla.

Co-sponsored by several Energy firms — including Chesapeake, Devon, Ward Petroleum, Koch Industries, and Centek  – as well as the Noble Foundation and the State Policy Network, the summit drew several hundred attendees from across the United States.

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.