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Commentary: Once again, siding with greens over job creation

By Dan Kish President Obama just had a change of heart on offshore energy development. Last year, the president put forward a blueprint to expand oil and gas exploration off the Atlantic Coast. This month, he shelved the plan.

By Dan Kish

President Obama just had a change of heart on offshore energy development.

Last year, the president put forward a blueprint to expand oil and gas exploration off the Atlantic Coast. In March, he shelved the plan.

Environmentalists are celebrating. But it's a loss for the country. Obama has passed on an important opportunity to secure America's energy future and create thousands of jobs.

The president has a long history of siding with environmentalists over working Americans. While campaigning for the presidency in 2008, for instance, Obama stated proudly that "under my plan ... electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket."

Upon taking office, the president wasted little time in pursuing this goal. After his attempt to get a cap-and-trade bill through Congress failed, he said that was "just one way of skinning the cat" and tasked the Environmental Protection Agency with carrying out his agenda through executive fiat.

The EPA responded with the Clean Power Plan, a sweeping carbon dioxide reduction scheme based on an imaginative interpretation of the Clean Air Act. Among other things, the plan promised to slash power plants' carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2030.

By restricting the use of low-cost fossil fuels and forcing the construction of expensive new generation, the EPA's plan effectively mandates that Americans pay more for energy. Fortunately, in February, the Supreme Court halted the enforcement of this scheme until legal challenges are resolved.

When the president isn't championing the cause of high energy prices, he can be found ignoring the real economic benefits of fossil-fuel development. As recently as 2012, he argued, "We can't just drill our way to lower gas prices." Of course, he was wrong.

Thanks to the shale-energy boom of recent years, America has emerged as the world's leading producer of oil and natural gas. Crude oil production alone has increased 72 percent over the past seven years.

As domestic production has soared, gasoline prices have fallen. According to the latest analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, gas is expected to remain at about $2 a gallon on average for the rest of the year.

In other words, Obama was wrong about the relationship between oil development and energy prices. Nevertheless, he continues to block drilling projects at every turn.

For instance, the administration has erected new barriers to drilling on federal land. Applying for the relevant drilling permit now takes nearly 100 days longer than it did before the president took office.

Not surprisingly, while crude-oil exploration on state and private land increased by nearly 90 percent from 2010 to 2014, drilling on federal lands actually fell 10 percent. Natural gas development on federal lands, meanwhile, dropped more than 30 percent.

And so it came as some surprise last year when the administration proposed leasing a segment of the Atlantic coast stretching from Virginia to Georgia for offshore drilling projects.

The reasons for supporting the plan were clear from the beginning. South Carolina alone would gain an estimated 35,000 new jobs by 2035. For Virginia, the economic gains flowing from offshore exploration would total more than $2 billion in that same period.

The administration's decision was also the first step toward tapping the 4.7 billion barrels of oil and 37.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas trapped beneath the Atlantic coast. Developing these resources would secure America's energy independence while creating around 280,000 new jobs across the country in the coming decades.

One was tempted to believe that the president had finally placed the interests of real Americans above the demands of the green movement. This proved to be too much to hope for.

More than a year after releasing its initial Atlantic drilling plan, the administration has officially reversed its position. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell defended this about-face, calling the new policy "a balanced proposal that protects sensitive resources." By "sensitive resources," one assumes she means the president's allies in the green movement, whose goal seems to be to make energy more expensive in order to limit Americans' use of it.

Once again, the administration has placed the extreme views of a radical few before the wealth and security of the nation as a whole. Had it acted otherwise, America would have a better future.

Dan Kish is a senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research.