My Congressman Invites Me to Submit & Join*

Michael Giberson

In the inbox this afternoon, an emailed letter from my Congressman, Randy Neugebauer, who queries me (and I guess thousands of my neighbors as well) in this manner:

Neugebauer, "Dear Friend" letter, February 27, 2011.

Notice the congressman’s question, “do you believe we should be maximizing the development of our domestic oil and gas resources?” and the button labeled “Submit & Join*”

The  *, which is in the original, links to this explanation: “*By submitting your answer, you are subscribing to the weekly e-newsletter I send out every Monday.

There was no opportunity to “Submit but not Join,” apparently meaning if I don’t want to subscribe to the weekly newsletters then he isn’t interested in my opinion. (Do I want to be spammed about Congressional pork? No, not really.)

But my real problem with this opportunity to communicate with my member of Congress on energy is that I’m not sure I understand the question: “Do you believe we should be maximizing the development of our domestic oil and gas resources?”

  1. Does “maximizing the development” mean producing as much oil and gas as possible? If so, then I’d vote “No.” I’d rather maximize the value of resources than maximize  development. Many fields are unprofitable to develop, because mostly depleted or just not very promising. Let’s not maximize the development of these fields – that’d be wasteful.
  2. Also, though I’m not the sort of person that get’s too worked up by, for example, the fragmenting habitat of the dunes sagebrush lizard, there are other things of value beyond development of oil and gas resources. “Maximizing the development of our domestic oil and gas resources” without consideration of the trade-offs involved would be wrong.
  3. More generally, I wonder just what he means by “our domestic oil and gas resources”? Since Mr. Neugebauer and I are not joint owners in any oil and gas resources (foreign or domestic), who’s resources are “we” talking about? The best answer may be those oil and gas resources that are under federal government ownership, and here again I’d favor maximizing the overall value of the resources, not maximizing the development of them per se.
  4. If, on the other hand, by “our domestic oil and gas resources,” he means to encompass privately owned oil and gas resources in addition to federally-owned property, then I’d say it is nothing I should be voting on. Private resource owners should free to maximize their value, or maximize their development, or turn their properties into duck ponds if that is what suits them (assuming they hold surface rights as well). We have no more business voting on what a private resource owner does with his property than we have voting on which church, if any, the congressman attends.

I’m pretty generally in favor of oil and gas resource (and related) development: ANWR? Open it up! Keystone XL? Permit it! Fracking? Yes, please! I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to say “Yes” to the Congressman’s question, but each time I try to read it carefully I end up saying “No.”

ASIDE: By the way, you might think it not necessary to specify that privately owned oil and gas resources are not some sort of common property of the state, but on the other hand: Bill O’Reilly and Lou Dobbs. (Not recommended viewing, by the way, because economic illiteracy is no laughing matter.)


5 thoughts on “My Congressman Invites Me to Submit & Join*

  1. I personally support Keystone XL as well, since some rough calculations suggest that the negative externality costs are likely smaller than the benefits.

    But let’s not pretend it’s some sort of free market enterprise, given its reliance on eminent domain to obtain its easements (link below). Come to think of it, doesn’t support for Keystone XL clash with the argument you present in point #4?,0,35763.story

  2. Indeed pipelines (and electric transmission lines and roads and railroads, etc.) frequently make recourse to eminent domain. By the way, a few privately built electric transmission lines have come about in Texas (private meaning by negotiated agreements not backstopped by eminent domain threats), but it seems the electric power industry is not enthusiastic about the spread of the practice.

    Yes I see the tension between property rights and use of eminent domain for, in effect, a private corporate use. I certainly prefer a private non-eminent domain approach, but also don’t want to empower a thousand tollgates on commerce between resource developers in Alberta and the refiners on the Texas coast. My position may not be entirely consistent on the point.

  3. I’ve long decried the phony way politicians have solicited opinions from their constituency via “surveys.” The questions are always framed in a way to ensure a particular outcome and usually are filled with politically charged language.

    For example:

    * Do you believe in medical malpractice reform to stop frivolous lawsuits?

    * Do you support President Obama’s unprecedented decision to ignore federal law and order his Justice Department to stop enforcing and defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)?

    And right before a pitch for a donation, this question:

    * Are you committed to helping ensure that in 2012, the Obama-era (sic) of radical liberalism, reckless spending and embarrassing foreign policy comes to an end?

    I’ve never seen a “constituent survey” that has been on the level.

  4. Here’s a question for your Representative:

    “Do you believe that “Submit & Join*” is code for immoral sexual practice that should be outlawed in a decent society?

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