Following Tuesday’s Senate hearing and Wednesday’s House hearing on Syria, the political theater is beginning to sound like some level of U.S. involvement will most likely happen over the chemical weapons attack. Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to authorize President Obama to use limited force against Syria. Lots of arm-twisting will be taking place in the next week. The pundits seem to think the Senate will vote with the President, but that the Republican-controlled House will be a tougher sell—despite the apparent support of Speaker John Boehner.
I am not writing to weigh in on whether or not we should have military action in Syria. I do energy. I have no military experience or expertise. What I do know is the economic impact of energy and politics. I can point out that with just talk of war, the price of oil has increased—even though Syria exports very little oil. (Of course, we know that the Administration wants higher gas prices.)
Since most people agree that there is no good option and disagree as to whether the cost of doing nothing is worse than the cost of doing something, let’s not debate that. Can we be pragmatic about this highly emotional issue? Ultimately, it’s political.
In his Washington Examiner column, “Why many Republicans won’t support Obama on Syria attack,” Byron York points out: “Lawmakers might re-write the president’s draft authorization into something they can live with.” We know wrangling and politicking will occur. John McCain has flipped from opposition to support after two amendments were added. Other deals were probably made behind closed doors.
While York presents reasons why Republicans won’t support intervention in Syria, I am presenting amendments should they decide to “re-write” the authorization. Amendments, or horse-trading, are how things are done in D.C. “I’ll give you what you want, if you give me what I want.”
Energy is a big part of the entire Middle East discussion. Many people believe that if the U.S. were not dependent on OPEC oil, we’d have no involvement in the centuries-old tribal conflicts. Any vote for the President’s plan should be tied to decreasing dependence, increasing independence—or, more accurately, North American oil security. Two specific policy directives are needed.
First, tie any authorization of military action in Syria to approval of the Keystone pipeline, which could cut our Persian Gulf imports in half by bringing an additional 830,000 barrels of oil per day into the U.S. Had the Keystone pipeline been approved when it was proposed, it would now be just months away from completion. Most Republicans, and many Democrats, support construction of the Keystone pipeline.
Second, allow access to domestic oil and gas resources and expedite drilling permits on federal lands. The Energy Information Administration reports that, in 2012, total U.S. oil production was up by 15% over the 2011 number, because of rapid growth of tight oil from reserves on private lands. However, sales of crude oil from federal lands decreased 5%. The 2012 figures continue a downward trend.
In July, the House Natural Resources Committee approved three bills to expand American onshore energy production. HR 1965 and HR 1394 specifically address the government hurdles and red tape that block and delay development, the elimination of unnecessary delays, and reforming the process for energy permitting.
In a press release about the committee’s passage of the bills, Chairman Doc Hastings said: “Energy production on federal lands is one of our best opportunities for job creation and energy security, but time and time again the Obama Administration delays and blocks these opportunities. Federal oil-and-natural gas production has declined since President Obama took office, but these bills would help reverse that trend.”
Doug Lamborn, Chairman of the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee, added: “In recent years we have seen a boom in energy jobs and economic growth on state and private lands. I believe the only reason we haven’t seen that same dynamic growth on federal lands is because of excess regulations.”
The combination of approving the Keystone pipeline and passing HR 1965 and HR 1394 would go a long way toward weaning American off of Middle Eastern oil and both should be tied to any authorization of the use of American military force in Syria.