By CONRAD LUCAS
CHARLESTON -- A new report shows that the West Virginia economy was one of the bright spots among all states in 2011. Total economic output or GDP -- the broadest measure of the state's economy -- grew 4.5 percent last year, the third-highest in the nation.
But this is a good news-bad news scenario. West Virginia's economic surge is threatened by signs that the global economic recovery may be stalling or even headed into another recession.
Following a bleak U.S. jobs report for May, and indications that factory production is slowing, American consumers are cutting spending against an expected downturn.
Robert Dye, the chief economist at Comerica Inc. in Dallas, told Bloomberg News that he expects sales of new big-ticket items like autos to fall off.
"We're in a period now where the economy is cooling," he said. "Businesses are getting more defensive as they think about the uncertainty they face the rest of this year."
A major source of that uncertainty is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's out-of-control regulatory machine. It is being used by ideologically-driven Obama officials in attempts to wreck the fossil fuel industry. The EPA is pushing a number of regulations designed to cut emissions at power plants. And rules are already in place on cross-state air pollution, coal combustion residuals (coal ash), and even for the "cooling water intake structure."
Unable to pass his cherished cap-and-trade legislation, President Obama now uses the EPA to slowly strangle the fossil fuels industry through excessive regulation. The tactics are downright brutal.
West Virginia coal is under attack from all sides. Obama's no-growth economy means America uses less power and foreign markets have less demand for our finest metallurgical coal to make steel. His EPA's assaults on our power plants will hurt our family budgets as households will have to pay more money for less power as still more emissions controls are mounted on the cleanest coal power plants in the world.
The goal of the EPA and Obama is quite simply to stop America from growing its economy, by making people spend more money for less energy. Your quality of life will suffer.
The EPA's top administrator in Dallas, Al Armendariz, left office in disgrace in April when his advice to subordinates was leaked online about the need to "crucify" a few energy executives to get the attention of local oil and gas companies. His hateful speech is typical of the regulatory approach of an administration that has sought to hamstring American energy producers. Be it burdensome regulations, punitive tax schemes, or restrictive leasing and development policies, the goal of Team Obama is to strangle our economy by any means necessary.
Shortly after Armendariz made his comments, the EPA targeted natural gas producers in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wyoming – issuing hastily drafted press releases claiming that hydraulic fracturing of natural gas deposits was causing groundwater contamination. But in each case, the government's statements were unwarranted, as a little research showed that there was no scientific evidence to back up the EPA's claims.
The EPA's tactics constituted an attempt to intimidate and bully gas and oil producers, and was driven purely by an ideological bias against fossil fuels. Its actions show a tremendous and inexcusable disregard for the well-being not just of individual companies or an individual industry, but for the whole of the American economy. This is pervasive at the EPA.
With a shale gas revolution happening right now in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and other states, energy costs promise to be ever more affordable and abundant. For American businesses, that's very good news and is the type of development that could save us all from another recession.
In light of the shale gas boom, the International Energy Agency recently announced that low energy prices are heralding a major shift in the economy. "The Golden Age of Gas has dawned in North America," the Paris-based agency said.
But there will be no bright and rosy future if the EPA puts the clamps on shale gas as it has on other forms of fossil fuels.
The Obama EPA is doubling down on job-killing policies. The President's reckless goal of steering American into a "green economy" via central planning and subsidies to favored cronies may be just the thing that pushes the West Virginia and U.S. economy over the cliff.
Even now, as we have discovered perhaps the largest natural gas production field in the world in the Marcellus and Utica Shales, environmentalists want to make those resources unavailable to fuel our nation's future.
Remember when President Obama told us that he wanted an "all-of-the-above" energy policy? Not credible. His actions speak louder than his slogans. In West Virginia, we can't live on empty political promises. All Americans – not just West Virginians -- need a thriving energy industry to compete in a global economy.
Our global economy has a weakening pulse and significant risks loom large. The Obama Administration's ongoing war against fossil fuels promises to turn a soft economy into another recession. West Virginia's state and federal leadership needs to do everything in its power to halt and reverse this dangerous course before it's too late.
Lucas is chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party.