A fundamental question faces the U.S.: Is our vision of the future "Made in America" or "Saudi America"? Does the U.S. want to reclaim its value-added manufacturing economy, or become an extractive petro-state? Will the U.S. produce cars and the fuels to power them, or keep importing both foreign cars and refined fuels even as we export cheap domestic oil and natural gas?
The U.S. oil industry views exports of natural gas and crude oil as a twin engine capable of powering windfall profits. Thanks to a confluence of abundant domestic fuel and the industry's even more voluminous greed, it appears we'll finally have the national dialogue we have long needed on energy's role in our economic future.
Six months ago, when I warned in Bloomberg View that the oil industry intended to lock in ever higher North American oil prices by gutting the federal ban on oil exports, some observers thought this ''unthinkable."
Now, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have all signaled that they no longer believe the U.S. should keep its natural gas and crude oil at home.
In recent months, the Department of Energy has approved, on average, a new export permit for liquefied natural gas every six weeks. In response, Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, D, blocked one of President Barack Obama's Energy Department nominees because she considers these almost automatic permit approvals to be reckless. The battle is joined.
Exporting U.S. crude will affect more than the price of gas; the nation's shipping industry is also at risk. If exports can travel in cheap Liberian tankers, the oil industry claims, it's unfair to require crude shipped from the U.S. Gulf to the East Coast to use the more expensive U.S. Merchant Marine. (The other option, to require all shipments of U.S. oil to travel in U.S. ships served by American crews, simply doesn't occur to the government these days.)