President Donald Trump has spoken vociferously about American “energy dominance.” That’s good news for your energy bills, but also the economy at large.
Before understanding how we can achieve energy dominance, it’s important to note that the U.S. is already a global energy powerhouse. For nearly six years, America has been the world’s largest petroleum and natural gas producer. The result has been affordable power, new job opportunities, and a competitive industrial sector that relies on energy as a critical input for their operations.
After accounting for inflation, overall energy expenditures in 2015 were the lowest since 2004, driven in large part because of increased supplies. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “In constant 2015 dollars, average annual household energy expenditures peaked at about $5,300 in 2008. Between 2008 and 2014, average annual household energy expenditures declined by 14.1 percent.”
Nevertheless, a number of government-imposed obstacles prevent Americans from benefiting the nation’s rich wealth of natural resources. Federal ownership and mismanagement of lands and coastal waters have stifled oil and gas production on federal lands. Opening access to natural resources currently off-limits should be step one.
Step two should be changing the regulatory landscape. Coal, struggling to compete with cheap natural gas, has also been knocked down by heavy-handed regulations that deliver no meaningful environmental benefit. Market forces may very well continue to diminish coal’s share of the electricity pie, but unshackling domestic regulations will give the industry a fighting chance.
Onerous federal regulations often duplicate state regulations, requiring businesses to spend money jumping through unnecessary hoops rather than hiring another worker or investing in new equipment.
What would unleashing America’s energy sector mean for the average household and the economy? Using a clone of the federal government’s energy model, we can see that opening access and deregulating would generate significant economic gains.
Annual electricity expenditures will decline, resulting in a total savings of nearly $1,000 for such a household. These savings are particularly important for low-income families and seniors on fixed incomes, for whom energy costs represent a larger portion of their budget.
Increased energy supplies will drive prices down further, generating significant cost savings and overall economic gains to households. The average family of four gains more than $27,000 by 2035. In terms of total gross domestic product, these gains translate to an increase of more than $2.4 trillion for the entire U.S.
More opportunities for energy development also means more job opportunities. For instance, the prospect of more oil and gas extraction creates employment for those directly associated with the extraction including data scientists, engineers, and geologists.
Moreover, the energy boom provides more employment opportunities for local businesses near extraction sites such as hardware stores, hotels, laundromats, restaurants, and so forth. Heritage Foundation research estimates a peak employment gain of 1.4 million new jobs, and average gains of more than 660,000 jobs.
These gains occur for a variety of reasons. Even for businesses not directly or indirectly associated with energy production, cheaper energy lowers the cost of doing business. Nearly every business in the U.S. uses energy as an input cost for its product, whether it is as simple as paying the electricity bill or filling up a vehicle with gasoline or diesel to transport goods.
Cheaper energy means companies nationwide would incur lower operational costs and therefore have more resources to invest in labor and capital. Chemical companies are investing heavily in the U.S., citing the affordable and abundant natural gas as their motivation. As of July 2017, the American Chemistry Council reports that the industry is cumulatively investing $185 billion on 310 projects in the U.S.
Although lower energy prices may tamper new investments, companies are reducing operating costs and improving efficiency to enhance productivity. As Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of IHS Markit, has remarked, “The industry is in the middle of re-engineering its processes and its technologies to be a $50 industry, not a $100 industry.” The federal government should not stand in the way of energy innovation.
The Trump administration has a lofty but achievable 3 percent target for economic growth. Capitalizing on America’s energy abundance must be a part of that strategy.
Nicolas Loris is the Herbert and Joyce Morgan Research Fellow in Energy and Environmental Policy at The Heritage Foundation.