Get big donors out of energy policy

One San Francisco billionaire with a Super PAC shouldn’t be able to deprive thousands of lower- and middle-class Americans from good-paying energy jobs. Yet this is exactly what hedge fund manager turned green energy investor Tom Steyer has pledged to do by promising up to $100 million to Democrats for the 2014 elections on the condition that they oppose construction of the Keystone pipeline. 

Of course, Steyer is free to exercise his First Amendment rights, but it’s a crying shame so many Democrats are listening to him instead of the millions of Americans who are in desperate need of work. President Obama announced yet another delay of the Keystone pipeline in mid-April. Tens of thousands of jobs could be created by approving the project; it only requires the stroke of a pen. Yet Obama refuses to pick that pen up and do it.

Such is the current state of our national energy policy, abused by big campaign donors who manipulate the political system for their personal causes. But Texas — a place where the energy economy isn’t under siege by ideologues and special interests — shows exactly how Americans will benefit once we overcome these awful influences.

Millions of Americans stand to gain from a flood of new jobs and opportunities that a booming energy sector can provide. If we just embrace what’s already happening, we’ll create and protect millions of jobs. All we have to do is get the federal government, and all the crony capitalism that comes with it, out of the way.

Since the recession began in 2007, America’s energy sector has been a consistent source of job creation in an otherwise anemic economy. Nationally, oil and gas employment has surged by 40 percent, far outstripping the rest of the economy’s feeble employment growth.

And Texans are reaping the benefits of this surge firsthand, showing the rest of the nation how to take hold of the resources right beneath our feet.

James LeBas, an economist for the Texas Oil and Gas Association, said the industry in 2013 directly employed 416,000 employees who averaged $120,000 a year in wages. Producers paid $11.5 billion in royalties to 570,000 families, or about $20,000 per household. 

The Eagle Ford Shale formation has brought prosperity to areas of South Texas that have been struggling for decades, particularly in the small and growing town of Cotulla.

As USA Today recently reported in a profile of Cotulla, tax revenues to the county have soared, allowing crumbling schools to rebuild and upgrade facilities. The children ride in new buses. Every child has access to a new iPad.

Places such as Midland and Odessa — the top two cities for economic growth, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis’ latest survey — are also enjoying a thriving energy economy, building new homes, schools, companies and restaurants.

Midland can hardly keep up with all the new business. When I visit the city, it’s nearly impossible to get a hotel room — they're all booked by workers who have no other place to live because not enough new homes have been built to accommodate the booming population.

That’s a sign of a city on the rise.

What has been done in Texas should be happening all over this great nation. We need a national energy policy bigger than Keystone.

Recognizing the potential that a new energy economy has to revitalize our economy, I introduced the American Energy Renaissance Act in March. This legislation would approve the development of the Keystone pipeline and streamline the approval of other energy infrastructure projects, open up more federal lands for development both onshore and offshore, stop federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing, facilitate the expansion of domestic refining capacity, rein in energy regulations and expand U.S. energy exports.

This will create more prosperity and growth in Texas and all over America, with the potential to generate 1 million private-sector jobs.

The chance to earn a solid paycheck, provide for families and give children a good education shouldn’t be limited to Texas. While we should be proud of our economic record in Texas, the opportunity to flourish should extend all over America. 

We can start by getting big-government politicians and their billionaire bankrollers out of the way.

Ted Cruz

U.S. senator, R-Texas