Calls of “Drill, baby, drill!” were notably absent from the political discussion in the waning months of 2013, as the bungled Obamacare rollout, the government shutdown, and bipartisan budget negotiations monopolized news coverage and activity on Capitol Hill.
This apparently did not sit well with the American Petroleum Institute and its president and CEO Jack N. Gerard, because on Tuesday the powerful trade group announced a major initiative to focus public attention on energy issues as the 2014 elections approach.
“In exactly ten months, our nation will be asked, once again, to decide who will represent us in Washington, D.C., and in state and local governments,” Gerard said at a luncheon in Washington announcing the group’s new initiative. “The collective decisions of the 2014 voters will shape whether and the extent to which our nation fulfills its potential as energy superpower.”
Blasting “the political ideology of the professional environmental fringe” and “political dilettantes,” Gerard was combative as he vowed that in 2014, API would “use the upcoming midterm elections as a means to frame and positively influence the long-term energy policy discussion.”
The publicly announced purpose of the API initiative is to create American energy independence from foreign sources of energy. “We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to reshape, realign and reorder the world’s energy market and improve domestic prosperity to an unprecedented degree,” Gerard said.
The not-at-all-veiled purpose is to watch how politicians vote on key energy issues. Gerard said his group won’t “score” votes the way some pressure groups do, but promised that politicians’ voting records will be monitored. The implication being that API will make life politically uncomfortable for those who don’t toe the pro-energy line.
When asked during a post-speech press conference how much money API would be dedicating to influencing politicians in 2014, Gerard demurred, but promised that the amount would be “adequate.”
And his organization has the financial muscle to back him up.
Largely unknown outside Washington, API is a major player inside the beltway. The organization has spent more than $36 million lobbying lawmakers in the past five years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and has dramatically ramped up its political donations in the past several years.
API’s wish list reads like something out of environmentalists’ nightmares: approve the Keystone pipeline, open up protected areas to oil and natural gas drilling, resist efforts to curtail the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and clear away rules restricting the ability of petroleum extraction companies to export their products.
It’s not clear how this last element fits in with API’s assertion that the purpose of its push to develop U.S. energy sources is to create energy independence. Other than reducing the pricing power of traditional oil producing countries, exporting petroleum products to other countries seems to have little to do with insulating the U.S. from the vagaries of the global oil market.
When pressed on the question of exports, Gerard asserted that allowing the market to price energy products was the wisest course – a defensible position, but one that has little to do with U.S. energy independence. However, he noted multiple times that increased exports from the energy sector have done more than any other element of the economy to reduce the trade deficit. This, of course, is good news, but it’s also not obviously related to energy independence.
Follow Rob Garver on Twitter @rrgarver
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