Here’s one way to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil: Let the economy dive into the deepest recession in decades. Remember that next time you hear a Democrat brag that, thanks to President Obama “America’s dependence on foreign oil is the lowest in two decades,” as Advanced Energy Economy Co-Founder Tom Steyer said at tonight's Democratic National Convention.
Steyer presents this factoid as part of a case for Obama, saying that at the GOP convention last week, “you didn’t hear any plans that would create jobs or a long-term plan for energy security.”
It’s true, as Obama’s campaign has advertised, that the nation’s dependence on foreign oil is below 50 percent. But U.S. government energy figures show that it’s been declining since before Obama took office, and, as Politifact notes, the biggest drop happened in 2009 as the recession was at its worst. The economy isn’t the whole story, reports the Energy Information Administration; efficiency improvements and changes in consumer behavior also played a role in the shift in demand. But according to the EIA, the decline does partially reflect "the downturn in the underlying economy after the financial crisis of 2008." There’s a correlation, in other words, between dependence on foreign oil and a struggling economy.
Still, expect President Obama to follow up on this line of argument when he speaks tomorrow night. Campaign aides have said that energy will be a focus of his Thursday night speech, and he’s long been obsessed with the idea of juicing the economy by subsidizing alternative energy schemes, even when his own senior economic advisers have told him those schemes aren’t likely to pay off.
Not for most of us anyway. But they might pay off for a few clever profiteers — like Tom Steyer. As he made sure to remind us, he’s not an environmentalist. He’s a businessman who has made the bet that “advanced energy is America’s future.” Which is another way of saying that he’s bet that publicly funded subsidies for unproven energy schemes are in his future.
Democrats, of course, aren’t the only ones immune to populist fantasies about dramatically reducing dependence on foreign energy. At the Republican convention last week, Mitt Romney made the utterly implausible promise to achieve North American energy independence by 2020.