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No Policy in U.S. Energy Policy Debate

U.S. President Barack Obama visited a plant in Cushing, Okla., that is slated to build the southern domestic leg of the longer Keystone XL oil pipeline. The project has become less about the energy debate in the United States and more about partisan tag lines during this year's presidential campaign season. Using political rhetoric as a debating tool during broader discussions on energy issues is doing little to address broader market concerns, however.

Republican leaders in the House of Representative have tried to move Keystone XL around the president's desk through various unsuccessful legislative maneuvers. Before Obama left for Cushing this week, his critics called his trip a "road show" mired in "political theater." Rife with allegorical statements, including a depiction of the president as the Grinch from Dr. Suess, the Republicans claims on political theater hold zero merit, however.

But the blame doesn't stop there. During a weekend appearance on CBS News' "Face the Nation," the president's top campaign adviser, David Axelrod, said Obama's would-be challengers aren't discussing oil as much as "snake oil" during their energy debates. It's Obama's critics, said Axelrod, who are the ones playing politics with energy.

Crude oil prices this week started to edge lower in part due to lower production levels in the European and Chinese industrial sector. The U.S. dollar also showed some gains. Meanwhile, the Chinese government this week lobbed insults at Washington for its stance on Iranian crude oil and sanctions. Saudi Arabia, for its part, sought to allay market concerns about potential oil supply disruptions from Iran and declines in production from Yemen and Sudan. The Saudi oil minister even went so far as to say the oil market is oversupplied and crude oil futures Thursday declined by 2.5 percent.

Yet, to hear Republican Sen. Dick Lugar describe it, the White House has an energy policy of going "hat-in-hand to Riyadh." Both sides of the debate, it seems, are issuing casting calls for their own political theater. A person's first reaction is, more often than not, an emotional reaction. Political rhetoric, especially during a campaign season, is tailored to invoke an emotional response from potential voters. Long gone are common-sense discussions on actual energy policies that matter. Instead, it's come down who has the cutest catch phrase. Just as there's little actual news on the news, there are few true policy issues offered by either side of the aisle in Washington – or in Cushing, Okla., for that matter.

Constituents in a democratic society have a reasonable expectation to get the information needed from their elites to make informed decisions at the ballot box. When emotional appeals, however, trump information, there's little actual knowledge gained, much less any value, from the ongoing political theater that is getting passed off as U.S. domestic energy policy.

By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com


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