The energy is there, but politics keep getting in the way

Polls show a growing number of Americans, burdened by steadily rising gasoline prices and tired of depending on foreign nations for their energy, want to encourage domestic exploration and drilling for oil and natural gas.

The United States constitutes 5 percent of the world's population, but we consume 25 percent of the world's oil and 45 percent of its gasoline. Our energy and energy infrastructure -- the envy of the world -- have been the strength of our economy and helped maintain our standard of living.

Now Americans are faced with a government that so far has been waging war on our domestic energy industry, with the result being lost jobs and a reduced standard of living. Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., flatly says that current Obama administration tax proposals will "imperil the jobs of millions in American-based companies."

While conserving energy resources and continuing the development of alternative and renewable energy sources are important for future generations, the Obama administration doesn't grasp the fact that renewable energy is not ready to replace fossil fuels in the short term, and will be challenged at best to replace them in the long term.

In the United States, alternative and renewable energy accounts for only 6 percent of our nation's energy portfolio (and 95 percent of that share is hydroelectric). Yet President Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner continually speak about doing away with fossil fuels.

The president must stop his blame game -- attacks on "Big Oil" for rising gas prices and on the so-called "subsidies" he claims these companies receive through tax breaks. He is harming the entire domestic oil and gas industry with these baseless criticisms.

Doing away with tax breaks for exploration would not hurt big companies such as BP or Exxon. It would hurt the smaller oil and gas independents that produce nine of 10 barrels of U.S. oil. These tax provisions, which are not subsidies, allow independents to invest their profits in reserves and production, as well as create jobs. So in the end it kills jobs and the price at the pump increases because of lack of supply.

Major oil companies don't get depletion allowances and haven't for 30 years. Mike Cantrell, the president of the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance, notes that "because American energy companies are allowed to reinvest their money back into exploration as simply opposed to handing it over to the government, we've now reduced our dependence on foreign oil to less than 50 percent."

President Obama's attacks and misinformation are even leading a growing number of his own party to break from him. Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., has been particularly scathing, saying "The president is dramatically weakening the country with his misguided energy policy."

What is one solution that could occur fairly quickly? Congress could stipulate an easier permitting process after the lifting of the 28-year-old federal moratorium on energy exploration in the outer continental shelf, an area that extends some 200 miles off our coastlines.

While some argue that we don't want exploration in these pristine areas, the fact is that with today's technology we can sensitively explore, through directional drilling, thousands of acres of surface lands with a single well. Isn't that a bargain when you calculate the cost to Americans as we continue to rely on energy from overseas, especially from the volatile Middle East?

No other country on the planet has such rich offshore resources yet rules them off-limits.

Many experts believe natural gas will replace oil and coal by 2025 as the leading source of energy in the country. This is largely due to new stringent clean air standards. Natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel, with 45 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than coal and 30 percent less than oil.

Shouldn't states be able to determine for themselves whether to allow offshore drilling? And states that allow coastal energy production should also receive a fair share in the revenues generated from the offshore leases.

Our energy scarcity has been caused by politics. It should be unacceptable to every American worried about rising gasoline costs that we are rich in both energy sources and the technology to develop them, yet Congress and the president so far have done nothing to address this alarming situation.

J.C. Watts is chairman of J.C. Watts Companies, a business consulting group. He is former chairman of the Republican Conference of the U.S. House, where he served as an Oklahoma representative from 1995 to 2002. His e-mail address is