Policy viewed as GOP candidate Jeb Bush's route to relevance
An extended campaign approach that is long on policy — such as the energy plan he detailed Tuesday — could help Jeb Bush make his mark among Republican presidential candidates, analysts say.
All Americans should embrace the country's energy revolution, Bush told a crowd of about 350 people assembled beneath a white tent during driving rain outside Rice Energy's offices in Cecil.
His energy plan would stimulate job growth and higher wages, Bush said, and it augments his policy to reduce taxes over a decade, his push to roll back government regulations and his policies on health care and higher education coming next week.
“The energy sector in our economy is probably the most value-added that exists, perhaps even more than information technology,” Bush said. “When people look at the economy, everybody marvels at Silicon Valley. And there is much to appreciate there; people are reinventing the wheel and creating prosperity.
“But the oil and gas sector has been the economic driver, even though you have had an administration that has been trying to drive it down.”
Bush's energy plan has four components — lifting restrictions on exports of oil and gas; approving the Keystone XL pipeline; reducing overregulation; and deferring to states willing to develop energy resources.
He is emphasizing policy agendas as he prepares to take his campaign beyond the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, aiming for March 2016 primaries in southern states. Pennsylvania, which votes April 26, is a swing state where oil, gas and coal production are pivotal to the economy.
“My campaign will go the distance, past the ups and downs that occur early on when people are testing out all of the candidates,” Bush told the Tribune-Review. “People (will) start migrating towards who can lead and who has the experience to be able to solve problems.”
His visit coincided with a USA Today power ranking that kept Bush, the former Florida governor, in fifth place among GOP candidates. The survey of political experts gauging the strength of the field showed businesswoman Carly Fiorina maintaining first place, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio unseating Donald Trump for second place and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson placing fourth.
Even if he does not gain an immediate bump in the polls, Bush should talk about serious domestic and foreign policy issues, said David Woodward, a Clemson University political scientist.
“It shows him as someone who can articulate positions on big issues and ideas,” Woodward said.
“These are the kinds of things Bush has to do, in part to set himself apart as the experienced problem-solver,” said Chip Felkel, a South Carolina-based presidential strategist not tied to any campaign. A conservative two-term governor, Bush was widely regarded as “a very substantive and experienced leader,” he said.
Bush pointed to Rice Energy, one of several companies in Washington County that tap the Marcellus and Utica shales for natural gas, as a company that invested in an idea and accepted risk — a great American concept, he said.
Rice applied the technology of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling “in a way that has built a public business that has created jobs,” 300 with the company and more among suppliers and others reliant upon the industry, he said.
Business and industry groups such as the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association in Franklin Park lauded Bush's ideas. With regulations, “Each state has different standards that it needs to apply, and to have federal oversight over each one is not the way to go,” said Dan Weaver, spokesman for the association.
But critics such as Jessica Mackler, president of the liberal super PAC American Bridge, view Bush's plan as “just another Republican giveaway to big oil” that ignores “how clean energy, such as solar and wind, can benefit the economy while combating climate change.”
Larry Schweiger, CEO of the statewide environmental group PennFuture, said Bush's policy proposals are no surprise. His brother George W. Bush's administration in 2005 exempted fracking from many federal rules, Schweiger said.
Leaving regulation to the states fostered health and environmental concerns “because the federal government is not a significant player,” and the president has a duty to protect the health of the nation, Schweiger said.
Bush notably targets the Obama administration's push to curtail carbon emissions from power plants, and he emphasizes the need to build the Keystone pipeline — a potential “job creator and income-booster,” he said. Radical environmentalists aren't allowing President Obama and Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton to do what they know is right regarding the pipeline's approval, Bush said.
Bush would lift a ban on crude oil exports and ease restrictions on oil and gas exports to countries with which the United States doesn't have free trade agreements. “It almost takes an act of God to get a permit,” he said.
The ban on crude exports “was designed in 1973, when we had an oil embargo. It may have made sense then; it doesn't now,” said Bush, whose father, former President George H.W. Bush, worked in the oil industry in Texas.
Bud Cook, a businessman in California, Pa., who came to hear Bush, considers energy is the most important issue in the 2016 election.
“Its impact can be felt across the country,” Cook said. “Manufacturing, steel, farms, ranches — and that's just the jobs. Those jobs lead to better, strong communities, schools and so on.”
Bush argues that Obama's “excessive rules” go beyond what's necessary to ensure energy development “in a way that protects human health and the environment,” he said. Some rules discourage investment in domestic oil and gas operations, he said. The “heavy-handed” carbon rule “will increase electricity prices for everyone and threaten the system's reliability.”
“You can always find balance between the environmental well-being and American entrepreneurialism and American exceptionalism,” Bush said. “Let's unleash this American potential. This country is still the beacon of freedom and if we start acting like it, we will be it.”
Salena Zito is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at email@example.com. Staff writers David Conti and Tory Parrish contributed.