It’s no secret that Americans are addicted to fossil fuels. When the price of gasoline goes down, as has happened in recent weeks, we drive more, buy bigger vehicles and push the fuel-efficient ones to the side.
When energy costs drop, however, there’s a good chance they’ll eventually rise again, putting us in the same fix if we’re driving a gas guzzler when the price gets back to $4 a gallon. But, like a gambler with a problem, we convince ourselves that this time things will be different and that somehow, magically, prices won’t rise again.
In Louisiana, we’re just as addicted, but we have an additional affliction. We’re also hooked on the process of providing supply to those who need to get their fix.
When the price of oil goes down, Louisiana’s budget suffers.
So Louisianians get it both ways. It’s not like we have a special Louisiana Resident card we can flash at the service station to protect us from paying higher prices at the pump. We aren’t exempt when utilities, airlines and package-delivery companies up their prices to cover higher fuel costs.
Yet we also get hurt when prices go down because state government has to cut back services.
There’s no doubt that there’s a benefit to the economy from energy exploration. We all have friends or relatives or both who work either directly in the energy industry or in related service businesses. For many, this industry connection goes back more than one generation.
But the benefit comes with costs, too. A look at the Louisiana coastline is evidence of that, and the BP well explosion in 2010 shows us the worst case when things go wrong. Meanwhile, the seafood industry is often working the same waters as the energy industry, but at cross purposes.
Yet, when the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority sued energy companies for the coastal damage, Louisiana politicians — Republicans and Democrats alike — jumped to the defense of the industry and tried to derail the suit.
There are other ways to co-exist with Big Energy. As someone explained it a few years ago, “The oil companies don’t own the resources. …They do the producing for us, but we own the resources.”
Those were the words of noted left-wing theoretician Sarah Palin, one-time top apparatchik at the People’s Republic of Alaska. Alaskans don’t pay sales or income taxes, and they get a yearly check from the government based on oil revenue, embodying what candidate Barack Obama only dreamed of achieving when he told Joe the Plumber in 2008, “When you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”
Of course the Alaska model is far from a collectivist’s utopia. Palin’s drill-baby-drill mindset didn’t burden the energy industry with much in the way of environmental regulations, and Alaskan officials even today seem to prefer drilling to preserving.
Though Palin’s more recent public appearances have lacked cogency, her idea to increase taxes on the oil companies was still popular enough last year to unseat her successor, Gov. Sean Parnell, when he tried to cut it back.
Louisiana residents don’t get a yearly check from the energy industry. But you’d think that the oil revenue at least would bring us roads smoother than a baby’s belly and a world-class education system from pre-kindergarten all the way through graduate school.
The reality is far from that, however, even in boom years. But the environmental disruptions the industry brings us are constant.
We know a dog shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds her. But it might not hurt if she occasionally snapped at the one that mistreats her.
Dennis Persica’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.