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“Political Time” is Sapping our Energy
Friday, April 16, 2010@ 10:44 PM
Author: Press

Political Time” is Sapping our Energy

By JOHN HOFMEISTER

HOUSTON CHRONCLE
March 27, 2010

As an intended joke I asked a Congressman’s chief of staff in December 2008 whether she was working on the 2010 election yet. To my surprise she responded with the comeback, “How did you know?” Remember, we had just finished (seemingly) the longest election in our history and it had hardly had a chance to wind down.

Yet this Congressman was already girding for the next election, working on the messaging, going over the finances, and steering his staff’s thinking toward the future. Two year terms can be an eternal political damnation or “Happy Days,” depending on how an elected official prepares for the future.  Four year presidential first terms are sustained campaigns; second terms are two years of legacy building and two years of wind down. Six year term senators can’t coast for any length of time. Tens of millions of dollars have to be raised; each week is a new milestone where messages, friends and their contributions matter.

I call “political time” the two year cycle between elections when every handshake, speech, vote and smile matters. The two year candidates never stop campaigning, the four and six year candidates guide their own messages and decisions based on their reading of the ongoing two year dynamics so they’re ready in the run-up to their election cycle. “Political time”  success is defined by winning elections. It requires successful campaigning and a good gut for decisions in the moment. It never stops and isn’t over ‘til it’s over, but then you’re out.

Energy executives meanwhile are delivering energy today from projects that began ten, twenty, thirty, forty and even fifty or more years ago. They keep them going as long as they can make a return to their shareholders and ensure the safety of the facilities. Their days and weeks are filled with project reviews and analyses of alternatives to decide which projects best fit future energy portfolios years and decades into the future. Investments and costs are continuously reviewed against oil and gas or coal price premises to determine what rates of return might be possible against short, medium and long term supply/demand forecasts. Supply chain decisions for new leases, power plants, platforms, turbines, castings and ships must be debated or made for the next decades of project flow.

I call “energy time” the decades of project analysis and execution that deliver future energy. “Energy time” success is defined by deliberation, analysis, capability in your organization, long relationships, knowledge and even mastery of technology. Gut decisions lead to short tenure; sound decisions lead to long term success.

Politicians and energy executives live in completely different worlds. There is nothing compatible about what they do or how they do it. They speak untranslatable languages to each other, think and work in totally opposite time dimensions, the here and now versus the future, and are accountable for incompatible objectives, winning votes versus risking popular resistance. Politicians are accountable for winning elections; executives are accountable for providing energy. One promises, the other delivers. “Political time” and “energy time” are as incompatible as oil and water.

Yet, unbelievably, politicians govern energy executives and decide what they can and can’t do. “Political time” energy policies are sapping the nation’s energy. We’re going backwards not forwards. Politicians, since Nixon first declared energy independence in 1973, have run for office on its promise. When Nixon was president we imported 30 percent of our crude oil from exporting nations; forty years later, 8 presidents and 18 congresses later, politicians have delivered political time results. We now import 65 percent of our crude oil. “Political time” policies make things worse.

It’s not enough that politicians have clamped down on energy companies for decades to keep us from producing our own domestic energy, they are now working on how best to strangle the remaining strength of our legacy energy system. “Big Oil,”  “Big Coal,” and “Nuclear Power” are the bad boys of the energy patch. Their so-called “excessive profits,” “filthy ways,” and “terrorist risks,” are being demonized, taxed, and controlled by politicians in “political time.” They are denying new leases and permits, stripping away decades of tax policies that stabilize energy production through economic cycles, and defunding the only national nuclear waste site, after spending $20 billion on it, to help the 2010 re-election prospects of the senate majority leader.

Today’s majority party politicians run for office to govern our energy future with all the knowledge and understanding of gifted amateurs, beholding to clean and green ideologues out to promote their special interests, while catering to the line-up of venture capitalists seeking taxpayer funds for the next “big thing”  in energy.  In case you haven’t noticed we’re experiencing a crusade to diminish the companies that deliver 93 percent of daily base load energy, while we ignore the 5 percent that comes from hydropower, and chattily, happily, smilingly promote and subsidize 2 percent of our energy supply from wind, solar and biofuels, which at best incrementally, and expensively, add to our energy mix.

“Political time” energy sapping is taking us perhaps unintentionally but continuously to an unprecedented energy abyss. Their track record proves we can’t count on politicians. Grassroots citizens are the nation’s only hope for the future. What they know and how they respond to this knowledge is crucial to the nation’s security, economic well-being and lifestyle promise. I founded Citizens for Affordable Energy and wrote Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk from an Energy Insider (Palgrave Macmillan 2010) to provide the facts, the non-political reality, and a pathway to future short, medium and long term sustainable energy solutions. We have more energy in this country than we will ever need. We should not restrict its production to keep prices high to reward politicians’ “political time” energy friends. We need more energy from all sources. “Political time” restrictions prohibiting “energy time” security are wrong. Citizens need to set the politicians straight. They work for us, not the other way around.

John Hofmeister

Founder and CEO: Citizens for Affordable Energy

Former President: Shell Oil Company

Author: Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk from an Energy Insider (Palgrave Macmillan 2010)

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