Reddest States Are the Most Vulnerable to Oil Price Shocks

Last Updated Nov 8, 2010 2:25 PM EST

There's a painful irony developing in post-election Washington: The states that went reddest on Nov. 2, which are sending Tea Party representatives to Capitol Hill to "rein in" the EPA and try and kill any climate or fuel economy legislation, are also the same states that are the most vulnerable to the oil price shocks that may well be around the corner.

Many of the newly elected congressman and senators are planning to focus on "stopping" the EPA, which is seen as doing an end-run around Congress to enact climate and fuel economy ratings for cars. Sarah Palin tarred the EPA in her election-night TV coverage. There were nine bills pending to stay the power of the EPA even before the election.

Another irony is that the auto companies actually like the EPA fuel economy regulations, because they consolidate state and federal efforts into one national plan. Their attitude might change with the political tide, though.

Here's part of a letter that Americans for Prosperity wants you to send to your representative:

The Environmental Protection Agency is an out-of-control bureaucracy attempting an unprecedented power-grab, seeking to regulate every aspect of our lives and take control of the U.S. economy by shoehorning greenhouse gas regulation into the 1970 Clean Air Act. There is no imaginable worse tool than the Clean Air Act, whose old fashioned, command-and-control regulations would devastate the United States economy.
And again it's somewhat ironic that the EPA's authority was enacted during President Bush's watch, in the form of the 2007 energy bill, which was followed by the finding that greenhouse gas is a carcinogen. Bush himself, though no big fan of the EPA, said he was concerned about America's "oil addiction." No matter: According to The Guardian, four different resolutions (again, pre-election) have tried, so far unsuccessfully, to take away EPA's authority by rescinding the carbon dioxide endangerment finding.

The list of vulnerable states is contained in the annual Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) survey released Thursday. The survey does not characterize the states politically -- that was my own perception. But asked if there was congruence with Red State voting, spokesman Deron Lovaas said, "That's generally fair to say: It's the southeastern and Great Plains states that are the most at risk." The New York Times identified "a trend in which Democrats on the east and west coasts were able to fight off Republican challengers while those in the South and Midwest were defeated."

According to "Fighting Oil Addiction: Ranking States' Oil Vulnerability and Solutions for Change," the most at-risk states are, in this order, Mississippi, Montana, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Kentucky, Utah, Idaho and Arkansas. A red tide there.

The states that have done the most to reduce their oil shock vulnerability are: California, Oregon, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Washington, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, New Mexico and Hawaii.

According to Lovaas, states get points on the list for offering incentives for the purchase of hybrid or electric cars, opening HOV lanes to green cars, and changing over government fleets. California, which is coping with big smog problems and evolved its own emission standards, is the obvious choice for leading the list. And state voters there turned back the oil-backed Proposition 23, which would have gutted the landmark AB 32 climate bill. California also elected a Democratic senator and governor Tuesday.

Texas, the SUV-loving sixth most vulnerable state, reelected Rick Perry as governor on Tuesday. Perry, who may be considering a Presidential bid, set the new tone in his new book Fed Up! "We are fed up with being overtaxed and overregulated," he said. "We are tired of being told how much salt we can put on our food, what windows we can buy for our house, what kinds of cars we can drive, what kind of guns we can own--" The actual list is much longer: He doesn't like being told what kind of energy he has to use, either.

The state that's done the least to reduce its oil dependence, according to NRDC, is Alaska. I wonder if Sarah Palin has seen the finding.

I expect a full-bore attack on the EPA's rulemaking in coming months. President Obama outlined the way he sees its role in this video:
EPA isn't particularly well situated to defend itself, either. Under Lisa Jackson, it's been remarkably closed off to the press. Officials there put nearly everything "on background," which makes it very hard to put the administration on the record (outside the official briefings). Even some officials who speak at the briefings are to be identified as "an EPA official."

It's worth pointing out here that a gas price hike would probably take a lot of the wind out of the new "say no to fuel economy" movement. In 2008, when prices hit $4 a gallon, there were a lot of converts to 30-mpg cars. And as Lovaas points, out, the Department of Energy is predicting exactly those steady oil price hikes, with oil topping $100 a barrel again by 2015.

NRDC and other green groups want the administration to be bold and enact 60 mpg as the end point of the joint EPA/DOT rulemaking on fuel economy and greenhouse gas for 2017 to 2025. One can imagine the Congressional outcry today if that is indeed the option chosen. But high oil prices will be a big game changer, even for the Tea Party movement.

Related:

Photo: NRDC