"In the forty year history of OPEC there has never been the case of the Secretary of Energy calling OPEC in the middle of an OPEC meeting... We are upset and disappointed at external pressure. We don't like it."
To his everlasting credit, this was the comment elicited from the OPEC cartel to then U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson in response to the calls he made in his attempt to remind OPEC of its responsibility to the world's economy and not simply to maximizing its extortionist pricing policies.
President Obama's current and retiring Energy Secretary Stephen Chu stands in sharp contrast, setting forth his parameters by being quoted early in his tenure:
"OPEC is going to do what they are going to do based on their own interests. I frankly don't focus on what OPEC should do, I focus on we should do"
This coming from a personage who, remarkably, before his appointment, was quoted by the Wall Street Journal in 2008:
"Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe." That, of course, would have meant gasoline at over $8.00/gallon.
The results were inevitable, with oil prices rising from the mid $30's barrel and gas prices under $2.00 gallon in the first 30 days of the Obama presidency to oil prices surpassing $100/barrel and gasoline prices topping $4.00 gallon during this administration's four years of oversight.
With the departure of Steven Chu as Energy Secretary the new Obama administration has a golden opportunity, given the vast gas and oil reservoirs under American soil, newly accessible by the exploitation of alternative and newly applied drilling technologies. It is an opportunity to reposition the Energy Department as a force for national energy independence, an economic force for national security, and as a monitor and sponsor of rational energy pricing thereby husbanding a mighty engine of economic growth.
- A government agency that would work with those government agencies directly responsible (Interior, State and the EPA) to facilitate the authorization of the Keystone Pipeline so that environmental concerns are properly assessed but also taking into full account the economic and national security benefits that would accrue to the nation.
- An agency that would act as the citizen's watchdog to assure that the oversight agencies such as the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission fulfill their obligations to the nations citizenry curtailing the excessive speculation, if not manipulation, that have had such major impact on oil and gasoline prices. To act as a counterweight to the commodity exchanges and their omnipresent lobbyists who continue to provide the gaming table, together with their rampant coddling of speculators, profiting together with the speculators at the expense of the American consumer being fleeced at the pump.
- As the government agency responsible for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, to set new guidelines for accessing its 700 million barrels plus of inventory especially now that the nation's consumption of oil has declined significantly and oil production from such as the Bakken and Eagle Ford fields is increasing dramatically to the point, according to the International Energy Agency that the the United States will become the world's largest oil producer by 2020. The quantities held in reserve are becoming progressively excessive so that the question becomes how should the SPR best be used to stabilize rational pricing to the economy's benefit.
- To break OPEC's death grip on oil markets, to lead the fight for the passage of the of the oft rebuffed and lobbied to oblivion NOPEC (No Oil Producing Exporting Cartels Act) statute that would have withdrawn the sovereign rights exemption from OPEC national oil companies permitting the Justice Department to institute legal proceedings holding them accountable for their collusionary behavior and their cartel inspired market manipulation.
- Given our newly accessible and enormous reserves of natural gas, to seize the initiative toward converting our transportation fleet to cleaner burning natural gas. The Department would focus on the current bottlenecks of compressed natural gas (CNG) distribution, while creating the basis of a national dialogue leading to the production of CNG burning vehicles, first trucks and eventually passenger cars.
- Coherent, non-politically crony based alternative energy initiatives, bio, sun, wind, tidal, and on- but not at the expense of expanding the domestic production and usage of our world beating resource, natural gas, taking full advantage of its enormously advantageous pricing and comparably climate friendly properties, in lieu of coal and petroleum based gasoline.
The next Energy Secretary appointment needs be someone who has experience in the oil world, has a sense of the players and the issues involved. This is a special moment as the nation is at the cusp of an energy revolution given its newly accessible resources that could dramatically enhance the well being and security of the nation. An old industry hand would be ideal, if one had confidence he would not simply be a plant of the oil boys network. Much work is at hand and this is the time for social engineering to come to an end. Only the best should be asked to apply.
To repeat the apocryphal legend about President Harry S. Truman, who after he had nominated General George Marshall to become his Secretary of State, was admonished by one of his staff:
"Mr. President, I must inform you that General Marshal has made it known that he feels intellectually superior to you, and that he, and not you, should be President."
Harry S. Truman, President of the United States looked frowningly at his aid, and said, without a hitch, "You know young man, he's damn right!"
It would be great for all of us if President Obama took Harry Truman's example to heart.