Protestors against the Keystone pipeline gather outside the White House in February.
Associated Press/Photo by Ann Heisenfelt
Protestors against the Keystone pipeline gather outside the White House in February.

The left’s conundrum: The environment or the poor


There is a fossil fuel revolution underway that will make America energy independent in the near future. But the American left receives these glad tidings as a tragedy. They opposed drilling for oil in the ANWAR region of Alaska and offshore drilling on both coasts. President Obama has joined his Democratic allies in blocking the Keystone pipeline from Canada, despite environmental accommodations on the route. Under the Obama administration, leases to oil companies have decreased by 42 percent and drilling permits have decreased 37 percent, whereas crude oil production in this country has increased 14 percent over the same period.

According to Congressional Research Services, “Since 2007, natural gas production on federal lands fell by 33 percent while production on state and private lands grew by 40 percent.” And whereas the fracking process that releases natural gas trapped in shale rock is another bonanza for domestic energy production and a final curtain for Middle Eastern and Russian international troublemakers, the left calls it “immoral“ and regards the potential environmental impact as the sole and decisive consideration in whether to allow it.

But this presents the left with a conundrum and reveals where their priorities lie between the environment and the poor.

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The current American energy boom is a potential relief to America’s poor. It can mean lower prices at the pump and lower home heating costs. Traveling to and from work, especially places hard to access by public transit, and fighting the winter chill are matters of critical importance for lower income people, and consume a much higher portion of their income than it does for higher income groups. According to E. Calvin Beisner of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation:

“Poor Americans now spend an average of 19 percent of their income on energy. States with green energy mandates have electricity rates that average 32 percent higher than states without. If you raise energy costs for everyone by 32 percent, the poor will spend about 25 percent of their income—and that, they can’t afford.”

Abundant domestic energy sources will mean lower fuel prices for truckers (ordinary people) and in turn lower prices for everything transported by trucks, including food. Again, this constitutes a large chunk of the cost of living for people of marginal means.

Perhaps the environmental left is blinded to this dilemma by a statist confidence that the government can step in for the poor with income supplements and other generous programs. But those programs cost money and so they require increasing government revenues, and these can only come from a growing economy and a prosperous people to tax. Lower energy costs mean more wealth up and down the income ladder to tax.

If you drive away the geese, your land will be clean but there will be no eggs for the poor.

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.


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