Tough questions for Hillary Clinton about energy policy

Now that Hillary Clinton is a presidential candidate, she needs to explain where she stands on one of the most important public policy issues of our time: energy. Does she want to encourage and expand fossil fuel production to meet U.S. and possibly our allies’ energy needs? Or will she side with environmentalists’ efforts to scale back and even curtail fossil fuel use?

Voters and the media should press her to answer the following questions.

Jobs and the Middle Class. Clinton kicked off her campaign asserting that she wants to focus on helping the middle class. Well, nothing has been a bigger boost to the middle class than the nearly decade-long U.S. energy boom.

As the Wall Street Journal reported last year, “According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of new jobs in the oil and gas industry … increased by roughly 270,000 between 2003 and 2012. This is an increase of about 92% compared with a 3% increase in all jobs during the same period.”

More importantly, those are high-paying jobs. “The BLS reports that the U.S. average annual wage (which excludes employer-paid benefits) in the oil and gas industry was about $107,200 during 2012, the latest full year available. That’s more than double the average of $49,300 for all workers,” according to the Journal.

If Clinton wants to create middle class jobs, unshackling the energy industry, which has flourished in spite of Obama administration regulations and restrictions, would be a good start. Will Clinton support policies, including the Keystone XL pipeline, that encourage fossil fuel exploration and production?

Energy and National Security. As former secretary of state, Clinton knows that national security depends, in part, on energy security, both for the U.S. and our allies.

Many of our allies depend on imported oil and natural gas from countries that use access to energy as leverage to promote their political agenda. Europe gets about 30 percent of its imported natural gas from Russia, and Russian President Vladimir Putin can cut off those supplies or raise the price at will.

Our allies want alternative energy sources, which the U.S. might be able to supply if we removed our 40-year-old ban on exporting crude oil and natural gas. There is bipartisan support for ending the oil and gas export ban. Would Clinton support that effort?

Clinton and the Ethanol Mandate. If the presidential election process didn’t begin in Iowa, where nearly half of the corn grown is converted to ethanol, there would be no mandate requiring ethanol to be blended into every gallon of gasoline. But corn farmers and ethanol processors have benefited handsomely from the mandate and demand presidential candidates support it—and most oblige.

Robert Bryce of the Daily Beast points out as a senator in 2002, Clinton opposed the ethanol mandate, calling it “the equivalent to a new gasoline tax,” and voted against ethanol legislation 17 times.

But when she was running for president in 2007, she said we needed to limit our dependence on foreign oil and so conveniently decided the ethanol mandate was important. With the oil production explosion, we don’t need ethanol to fill a void. Indeed, our oil storage capacity is close to peaking in some regions.

So this time around will we hear from the 2002 anti-ethanol Senator Clinton or the 2007 pro-ethanol presidential candidate Clinton?

Tax Dollars and Green Energy. President Obama has funneled billions of taxpayer dollars to various green energy schemes. And several of them turned out to be colossal and very public—can you say “Solyndra”?—failures. Oh, and a number of investors in those companies also happened to be big Obama donors.

Clinton will almost surely support “investing” in various green energy companies because she needs the environmental vote. But she should at least be pressured to reveal if there is a limit to her green-energy handouts. How much of your tax dollars is she willing to hand over to companies whose business model can’t attract private venture capital eager to find good investments?

Clinton will try to avoid difficult questions on the campaign trail—a dodge made easier without a serious Democratic opponent. But the voters and media shouldn’t let her.

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