Checking the Facts on President Obama’s “Energy Facts”

Debunking the claims made in the president's most recent campaign ad

President Obama’s re-election campaign went into full swing this month with the release of his first TV ad of the election cycle. Airing in six key battleground states, the ad defends the president’s record on green energy funding as it singles out “secretive oil billionaires” for allegedly trying to derail his green agenda. The ad attempts to justify the White House’s $535 million loan to the now bankrupt solar power manufacturer Solyndra by citing “independent watchdogs” that have called the president’s record on ethics “unprecedented.”

The “unprecedented” acclaim came from the League of Women Voters in April of 2009 – just three months into his presidency, five months before Solyndra signed a government-backed loan contract, and more than two years before the scandal surfaced. What does it say about the president’s ethics record if the most recent quotation he deemed usable came from his first 100 days in office?

The core of the ad looks into what the campaign calls “Energy Facts.” These “facts” say that 2.7 million green energy jobs have been created under Obama’s watch. But if you actually read the July 2011 Brookings Institution report from which these facts came, they are less than inspiring.

According to the report, the 2.7 million green energy jobs make up only 2 percent of employment nationwide. But by Brookings’ own estimate 386,000 of these are employed in “waste management and treatment, 315,000 in “conservation,” 142,000 in “regulation and compliance,” and 130,000 in “organic food and farming.” The vast majority of jobs listed in the report have nothing to do with energy production that Americans can use to heat their homes, drive their cars, or turn on their lights. Only 138,000 jobs in the report – roughly 5 percent of jobs identified – are green energy jobs that actually produce energy (like wind, solar, hydro).

Subsidies into green energy producers create jobs, but often at a high cost and at the expense of more jobs than would be created if markets were permitted to operate without government interference. The Economic Development Department in California reports that $59 million in state, federal and private money dedicated to green jobs training and apprenticeship led to only 719 job placements in that state which cost taxpayers about $82,000 per job.

The 2.7 million jobs do not show the unseen effects that subsidized green energy can have on employment more broadly. A global example of how government-backed green energy subsidies are costly is a widely reported study by the King Juan Carlos University in Spain which found that while green energy policies created jobs, those jobs came at the expense of two jobs that were lost in another part of the Spanish economy. Spain has wisely pulled back from green energy subsidies. Obama has not.

As important as the Obama Administration considers recycling, regulations, and organic farming to be, I prefer that the energy industry produce energy. The fossil fuel industry, an industry President Obama has waged a war against, actually does that as it employs about 2.4 million people.

On Jan. 23 the U.S. Energy Information Administration increased its estimate that American oil production will grow by 550,000 barrels per day, to just over six million barrels daily by 2020. That’s a 20 percent increase in production and an 11 percent increase from the original estimate. That estimate increase translates to cheaper, abundant energy that will create more jobs and fuel American homes and automobiles.

President Obama’s TV campaign ad adds insult to injury on the heels of his decision to deny permitting for the Keystone pipeline. Instead of embracing an energy policy that allows the production, transport, and use of affordable North American energy, the President is embracing a policy requiring Americans to buy expensive, unreliable, and politically motivated renewable energy that employs fewer people, inserts more government into our lives, and requires expensive government subsidies to survive.

The ad is also a way for Obama to reestablish his green energy credentials with environmentalists in the important battleground states of Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. Environmentalists like Melinda Pierce, lobbyist for the Sierra Club, see it as a sign that he will not shy away from green issues during his State of the Union address Tuesday. Pierce recently told Greenwire that the ad makes her feel like “he is really going to own this issue. He made a hard decision, and he rejected the pipeline, and it looks like he’s staking out some turf on clean energy.”

Fortunately for environmentalists across the country, President Obama has already staked out his energy policy. For the president, it’s fairly simple: it doesn’t matter if the U.S. energy sector is propped up with politically-motivated taxpayer loans, if the U.S. continues to rely on foreign oil, or if the U.S. energy sector fails to create cheap, reliable energy for Americans. All that matters to the president is that he holds on to the presidency for one more term – even if that means households are forced to pay higher electricity bills as a result of this energy policy.

Adam Peshek is a research associate at the Reason Foundation.