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Tuesday, Sep 30, 2014
Commentary

The United States’ manufacturing renaissance is truly at risk


Published:

America’s newfound abundance of natural gas is powering a remarkable renaissance in American manufacturing. Glass, steel, aluminum and chemical manufacturers, among others, have announced more than 120 new projects totaling nearly $110 billion of new investment. Heavy manufactures are building new plants and factories because of the abundant supplies and stable prices for natural gas. We are already seeing dividends in the form of increased manufacturing employment. More than 68,000 high-wage, high-skilled manufacturing jobs are being created annually.

In the Aug. 14 Tampa Tribune, Professor Walter Williams opined against so-called “energy manipulation” (“Energy manipulation: Restricting natural gas exports,” Other Views). With respect to the professor, he simply has a lot of basic facts wrong.

First, there are no “export restrictions” for natural gas. Rather, under a law passed in 1938, individual applications to export American public resources like natural gas must be reviewed individually to determine if they are in the national interest — a determination that takes into account all aspects of society and the economy. Those aren’t export restrictions — it is the law — and it is the process not only that the Department of Energy (DOE) uses with liquefied natural gas export applications, but one that is followed by other federal agencies that administer export license requirements, like the Commerce and State departments.

Second, America’s Energy Advantage is not lobbying for export restrictions. Our view continues to be that the U.S. needs a thoughtful, careful and balanced approach in considering how much of our natural gas to export. That can easily be found at www.amerciasenergyadvantage .org. Looks like the professor did not do much homework on this fundamental issue.

Third, oil and gas interests have poured millions more into a massive lobbying effort to pressure the Department of Energy to fast-track every single export application. It would be interesting to know if Professor Williams’ work has been sponsored from the vast resources of the oil and gas industry.

How much of this critical natural resource to export is an important national debate that should be considered based on the facts, not hyperbole or cheap political attacks.

There is one point on which there is no debate: The American manufacturing renaissance is real. The U.S. has added 530,000 jobs since 2010, and economists at the Boston Consulting Group project that if gas prices remain at or near current levels, the effects of increased exports and reshoring — companies bringing overseas manufacturing back to the U.S. — could lead to 5 million jobs being added by 2020. Add to that the big benefits to consumers in the form of lower utility bills, and it underscores how significant the debate about natural gas exports is to our economic future. We cannot afford to get this wrong.

A strong economy, manufacturing job growth, and affordable consumer prices are most definitely in the public interest of all Americans. When it comes to the complex decision of how much of this U.S. gas should be sold to our global competitors, the Department of Energy has taken a serious and sound approach. Arguing that it is “poor economic policy” to ask the government to review the most recent and comprehensive data when considering these critical decisions is unwise, inaccurate, and obscures the larger picture.

A recent study by Charles River Associates found that increased manufacturing from affordable natural gas creates twice the direct value for our economy and eight times as many jobs as gas exports. The study also demonstrates how easily this opportunity could be lost. Unchecked natural gas exports would double prices from today’s levels. Should that happen, much, if not all, of the $100 billion of manufacturing investment mentioned above will be at risk, and the millions of jobs those investments are expected to add in this country will go elsewhere.

The shale natural gas boom is a primary driver of our economic recovery, and it presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the United States to rebuild and modernize its manufacturing base, increase the nation’s economic competitiveness and create millions of high-skilled, middle-class jobs. We must make sure we get this policy right, and strike the right balance, so that we do not squander this incredible gift.

Jennifer Diggins is director of public affairs for Nucor Corp. and chairwoman of America’s Energy Advantage.

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