Presidential power limited in blowouts and energy market

June 14, 2010
The inability to meet impossible standards is not a license for demagoguery.

The inability to meet impossible standards is not a license for demagoguery.

In fact, US President Barack Obama can blame himself for some of the pressure he feels over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

He took office promising the impossible across a broad spectrum of national concerns. Now, critics from both major political parties demand to know why he hasn't snuffed the Macondo blowout.

Well, he can't. It's not in his power or that of any other official of government to kill that well.

BP must do the job. BP knows the reservoir and the well history. It has expertise the government lacks.

Obama and others in government have strong roles to play. In the end, however, BP will kill the well. Expectations to the contrary are ridiculous.

Maybe frustration over this display of presidential fallibility made Obama stoop to deception in a speech June 2 at Carnegie Mellon University.

Pursuit of a "clean energy future," the president said, "means rolling back billions of dollars of tax breaks to oil companies so we can prioritize investments in clean energy research and development."

Against a backdrop of national outrage, this statement clearly targets BP and other representatives of "Big Oil." It's deeply misleading.

Tax breaks specifically for oil companies help independent producers, especially small ones, not the integrated behemoths Americans hate.

Half the 10-year savings estimated to result from repealing oil and gas tax preferences, as Obama proposes in his federal budget, would come from independents. The move would kill jobs and slash drilling.

The other savings indeed would sap major oil companies—but not by eliminating one of those "tax breaks to oil companies." It would result from revoking the already limited ability of oil companies to use the manufacturer's tax credit fully available to other American businesses.

Prodded by unrealistic pressure, the president has resorted to distortion in service to exaggerated promises about using new oil production as "a short-term solution while we transition to a clean energy economy."

With energy, a president's most potent power is the ability to spend public money on impossible dreams.

(Online June 4, 2010; author's e-mail: [email protected])

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