Last fall the United States began, for the first time in almost 20 years, to produce more crude oil than it imported. Around that same time, the International Energy Agency altered its previous predictions to show that the U.S. would become the world's number-one oil producer by 2015, producing 11 million barrels of crude a day. The headlines – and their implications – were hard to miss. American energy was making a comeback in a huge way.
Not only was the U.S. regaining its foothold in world energy markets, things were beginning to look pretty good here at home too. Oil and gas industry jobs increased by 40 percent between 2007 and 2013, a sharp contrast to the three percent job loss in the overall economy. Meanwhile, surging domestic energy production injected $476 billion into the U.S. economy in 2010 alone, filling state and federal coffers with needed revenue.
The economic impact of the U.S. energy renaissance translates into real benefits – especially for low income and middle income Americans. In addition to new jobs and more revenue, American energy production has helped keep our energy prices more stable even in the face of great unrest in the Middle East and other oil producing parts of the world. This is critical for many Americans struggling to make ends meet while also putting gas in their cars and heating their homes.
But progress wouldn't be progress without at least one billionaire raining on the parade.
America's domestic energy boom doesn't sit well with San Francisco-based, former hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer. Having made a large share of his fortune in foreign coal and oil investments, he now seems to believe that America should abandon oil and natural gas in favor of alternative, and significantly more expensive, forms of energy.
Apparently fossil fuels are okay in his book as long as they're being developed somewhere other the United States.
On the national stage, Steyer is best known for his efforts to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, even though the U.S. State Department found it would have a minimal impact on the environment and would support more than 42,000 direct and indirect jobs nationwide. That doesn't matter to Steyer, who ponied up $1 million for an advertising campaign and pledged $100 million to support politicians promising to block Keystone.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration took the bait and placed the pipeline's final review on hold for the foreseeable future. It was a win for Steyer, but a big loss for American jobs and energy prices.
But with a net worth of $1.5 billion, Steyer has little reason to concern himself with middle class, jobs or how low-income consumers will pay for utilities. He'll do anything to stop the energy boom in its tracks.
These days, you'll also find the billionaire activist contributing his fossil fuel, hedge fund cash to candidates who oppose advanced shale gas drilling technology – which is largely responsible for Americans' energy and manufacturing renaissance, and is one of the few bright spots in our still-struggling economy.
Even in his adopted home state of California, Steyer is attempting to subject consumers to more monetary pain. Energy producers in California paid the equivalent of $26.44 per barrel in taxes in 2011. Yet Steyer has been working to impose a new "severance tax" on every barrel of oil produced in the state. An increase in state oil taxes would decrease production, kill thousands of jobs, and increase oil imports.
Moreover, the higher taxes will undoubtedly lead to increased costs for California drivers that happen to already pay some of the highest gasoline prices in the country. Middle class and lower income Californians will be hit particularly hard – paying the price for Steyer's ideological crusade
California's Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown rejected the severance tax measure earlier this year, but odds are good that Steyer will bankroll an effort to put the severance tax on the ballot in 2016. No one – not even fellow Democrats – are spared his radical crusade. Union Democrats, for example, would actually benefit from the additional oil, natural gas, rail, and port jobs Steyer tries to destroy.
The former hedge-funder can't see the obvious benefits of the domestic energy boom through his radical brand of environmental extremism. Yet even a billionaire like Tom Steyer can't stand in the way of progress in America's energy industry – no matter how hard he tries.