By JOHN O'NEAL
BECKLEY -- Our country is faced with very real challenges: an anemic economy and a lack of new investments and job opportunities.
We've seen a persistently high unemployment rate, currently at 8.2 percent, while 17.4 percent of Americans are categorized as underemployed. Opinion poll after opinion poll shows that the public is deeply concerned about the economy and our nation's future. But believe it or not, our situation could be even worse.
I represent Raleigh County in the West Virginia Legislature. The jobs created by the energy industry are incredibly important to my district and to our entire state. Successful development of domestic energy resources over the past few years has created jobs and injected some degree of life into our economy.
Just look at North Dakota: because of energy projects in the Bakken oil fields, the state boasts the lowest unemployment rate in the country. Think how abysmal our national economic numbers would look if energy projects in resource rich states all over the country slowed or came to a halt. Unemployment would rocket higher, along with gas prices.
Domestic energy is helping keep the economy afloat. That is precisely why efforts to raise energy taxes at the federal level are so baffling. President Obama's FY 2013 Budget proposal includes billions of dollars in tax increases on American energy—specifically oil and gas.
Proposals to repeal standard business deductions for energy companies have been a part of every budget blueprint from the Obama Administration. These proposals are a tax on energy producers – a tax that would strain our already difficult economic condition, increasing prices at the pump and diminishing job opportunities currently existing within the energy sector.
Our leaders in Congress must make the right call because plans to tax U.S. energy would also put domestic industry at a competitive disadvantage with foreign oil and gas companies in countries such as Venezuela and Russia. Politically-driven energy tax proposals are just not an option in today's global economic environment.
Here in West Virginia, our state's economic recovery still has a long ways to go too. The Mountain State's unemployment rate for the first quarter of 2012 was above 7 percent. People in my district—like all Americans—are concerned about the economy, the price of gas and opportunities for their family. And according to a 2011 poll from the American Petroleum Institute, "70 percent of West Virginia voters oppose new oil, natural gas taxes."
As most people in West Virginia understand, raising taxes on energy is not a smart policy decision. There is real growth in domestic oil and gas production, and with new advances in technology and drilling techniques the sky is the limit.
With the right national energy policies, estimates indicate the U.S. could add roughly a million jobs by 2020. Yet plans to impose new energy tax schemes continue to be organized by White House officials and Democratic leaders in Congress.
Washington is divided along partisan lines; this is no surprise in an election year, but we are talking about American energy and American jobs. These are issues that all our politicians at both the state and federal level should be able to agree upon.
We must develop our resources responsibly and allow the private sector to provide employment opportunities for those willing to put in a hard day's work. Raising taxes that will suppress the growth of American industry should not be part of the conversation.
Our industries should never serve as a cash machine for big government spenders or bureaucrats with a political agenda, particularly when oil and gas companies already pay some of the highest taxes in the U.S. Middle class families and small businesses have been reeling from the national economic downturn, and now we need cheap, abundant energy to move our economy forward toward recovery. Higher taxes only undermine the efforts of American businesses to keep prices affordable and invest in the future.
O'Neal is a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates.