On the same day that electric-car battery manufacturer A123 Systems announced its bankruptcy -- having won and consumed a $249 million federal green energy grant -- President Obama argued that the federal government must spend even more on similar boondoggles.
Why? "Because China, Germany, they're making these investments," Obama said in Tuesday's debate. "And I'm not going to cede those jobs of the future to those countries. I expect those new energy sources to be built right here in the United States."
It is a pity that gall is not an energy resource.
Having already thrown billions of taxpayer dollars away in search of his green energy unicorn, Obama wants to expand upon this failure, as if we're only a few more bankruptcies away from achieving full energy independence.
Obama's comments were prompted by a pointed question put to him during the debate: Did he agree with his energy secretary, Steven Chu, that it is not his job to lower gas prices? Obama avoided answering the question and instead changed the subject. He argued that his administration has worked to expand energy production, even fossil fuels. "All of these things have contributed to us lowering our oil imports to the lowest level in 16 years," he said.
It is true that oil imports have fallen, but mostly for reasons that have nothing to do with Obama: increases in domestic production on private land and new "fracking" technologies that the Obama administration has been working to regulate more stringently. The weak economy, for which Obama does not want to take credit, is another factor.
As for the reserves actually within Obama's control, he has seen to it that less oil, not more, has been extracted. Production on federal land was down 14 percent in the last year. (Obama tried to dispute this and even claimed that production on federal land has risen, but the figure comes from his own federal Energy Information Administration.) Data from the federal Bureau of Land Management confirm this another way: The number of oil leases on federal land has fallen every year since Obama took office -- from 53,431 in 2009 to 49,173 last year. This despite the high price of oil.
The rest of Obama's energy policy suggests an approach very much in tune with Chu's comments that we mentioned earlier this week -- his pining for $7 per gallon gas. Recall that Obama placed a blanket six-month ban on Gulf drilling after the BP disaster. Before the courts slapped down this scientifically unjustifiable policy, the administration's move had shut down production throughout the region. Obama also rejected the Keystone XL pipeline project, which would make domestic oil resources more mobile and more profitable. In the Tuesday debate, Obama mocked the project. "With respect to this pipeline that Gov. Romney keeps on talking about," he said, "we've built enough pipeline to wrap around the entire Earth once."
As Romney noted, the real proof of success is "what the price is that you're paying at the pump." In January 2009, the average national price was $1.67 a gallon for regular, according to AAA. Today, the price is $3.76. That shouldn't make anybody happy -- except maybe Energy Secretary Chu.