Former big oil president has a plan for sound energy policy in the U.S.

02/14/12 Janelle Irwin
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A former oil executive is speaking out about the problems with America’s energy policy. John Hofmeister is the former president of Shell. In January he told a crowd of about 75 at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, he wants the U.S. to take the politics out of keeping the lights on.

According to Hofmeister, the United States is well on its way to long lines for gas, soaring prices and brown outs. The approach he calls business as usual is crippling the ability of U.S. lawmakers to reduce its dependence on foreign oil. He said China is currently using 9 million barrels of oil a day and expects that number to grow to 15 million barrels by 2015. Unlike the U.S., China is making plans to meet their growing needs.

“China has funded up to 120 billion dollars in loans to a number of state-owned oil companies in return for first oil to pay back the cash loans. So they won’t be repaid in cash, they’ll be repaid in the equivalent oil value.”

Hofmeister believes the problem with America’s energy stagnancy is party politics. He calls it partisan perversity and said it means that policy makers from national government all the way down to local governments put the status quo of their political party before the best interest of citizens.

“I choose the word perversity deliberately to go up the nose of those who practice it because to me, the behavior that would cause our elected representatives to go against what I know are some of their strongly held personal beliefs in the name of supporting a party position over their position of conscience for the sake of party victory over the other party, to me is a perversity.”

And the former oil executive criticized the size of government. It’s too big he said; even though he’s a self-proclaimed Democrat who voted for Obama in 2008. But when it comes to energy he said there are too many people standing in the way of progress and most of them don’t know a thing about it.

“And if you want relief don’t go to the legislative branch because there are 26 committees in the legislative branch each with a chair and a ranking member that worry about what’s going to happen two years from now and will the majority party hold power or will the minority party take over and that dynamic never stops. If you seek relief in your judicial branch you can choose one of 800 judges who have the authority at the bench to determine that a regulation, a law, a practice, a custom, is illegal whether they know anything about energy or not.”

So his solution is to kick them out of the process and make a Federal Reserve-type system specifically for energy policy. Staff it with professionals; people who know about energy. And his biggest point was to use all of the energy sources available like nuclear, coal, oil and renewables. The energy fed, Hofmeister called it, would act as a planner and a regulator to protect both needs and environmental concerns.

“Link the environmental protections for land and water and air directly to the energy supply side so that we are working in compatibility on the environmental regulations pertinent to the supply side decisions that are made in the name of sustainability and using regulations over the time period of the plan to make sure the dirty energy is cleaner and clean energy is adequate.”

At the end of Hofmeister’s hour-long talk, people in the audience joked that he should run for president. One of them, former Florida Power & Light CEO Andy Hines, shared many of Hofmeister’s ideas.

“I think it’s important that we develop our own sources of fuel. All kinds, oil, gas, coal. I think that the upswing in natural gas production is very good news for our country. Inevitably, environmentalism and energy needs clash. There probably needs to be a little give and take on both sides. The current administration, environmentalism comes out on top.”

Hofmeister’s energy fed concept also focused on planning. He told listeners that everything great accomplished in this country like trips to the moon and the automobile, came after significant planning. He said that’s something policymakers just aren’t doing.

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