In the last months of President Donald Trump’s term in office he signed a number of executive orders that many would consider favorable to the energy sector and fossil fuels producers in particular. These included favorable action for additional gas and oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, additional leases in western states, as well as moderating clean air and emissions regulations and permitting requirements for pipelines.
After the Inauguration, in two weeks’ time the new president Joseph Biden, with the ink of a pen has reversed by executive order a number of Trumps initiatives that eased regulations and streamlined the permitting process. He has gone further and de facto killed several major key pipeline projects without regard to the immediate impact on our Canadian neighbors and western states he did not win in the election. The question that needs to be asked, where is the United States Congress?
There was a time when Congress truly functioned as integral branch of our democratic government. Proactive in their constitutional prerogative Congress: enacted laws of the land, provided guidance to regulations, advised and consented to the president, and sought clarity in laws passed to aid judicial review. Congress was originally envisioned by the country founders as the center institution of our government, balancing the executive and judicial branches of the government. The law of the land was to be proposed, debated and enacted by the legislative branch. Over time and at accelerated pace in the last thirty years, the pendulum has swung. Congress has become seemingly impotent, embroiled and stagnated by ineffectual and divisive partisanship. Our career politicians always bent on reelection routinely avoid the difficult decisions and principled action allowing the President and Courts to set the agenda by decree.
These actions should alert and alarm those who value our representative form of government no matter our political viewpoint. Why should the president be allowed to make sweeping changes without true constructive discussion, debate, compromise and representative action? It is acknowledged each side has their own elevated target list. Reiterating, in the energy sector, the swing goes from more open consideration of natural gas and oil pipelines, and moderated drilling regulations to now a de facto stop on pipelines and cessation of drilling on federal lands. The swing goes from one administration’s disregard of renewables emphasizing fossil fuels, now to a total embrace of what is called the New Green Deal with a promised land energized with solely renewable sources of energy.
But as each side pushes the pendulum, rhetoric confronts reality in Texas. As this past week events have graphically illustrated that delivery of reliable energy supply cannot be taken for granted. It does not matter if it attributable to climate change or not, it got frigidly and unusually cold in Texas. Regardless of hot words of blame, wind turbine blades froze right along with gas pipelines, valves and pumping jacks. But no surprise, this was not the first time the weather pendulum was swung to the extreme by the polar winds. After a similar cold spell in 2011, government agencies called for winterization of vulnerable components of the power system in Texas. Unfortunately these warnings went unheeded lulled by the warming sun. Rather than immersing in a polarizing debate between the over dependence on fossil fuels or embracing the brave new world of the unproven, the nation, along with Texas should seek to bring the pendulum swing more to the center and balance. To bring a better and sustaining energy future requires diligent work and cooperative effort. May Congress take heed and lead.