There's a question I get often when it comes to leadership. The question is this: "What makes a great leader?"
It's simple. Be willing to make decisions and accept the consequences. Take into account all the information available, and make a call. That's the most important quality in a good leader. Don't fall victim to what I call the "ready-aim-aim aim-aim" syndrome. You must be willing to fire. It helps to be a good shot.
President Obama failed this leadership test in two ways with his handling of the Keystone Pipeline. Blocking the pipeline weakened America's energy security and damaged prospects for a North American energy alliance while doing nothing to limit CO2 emissions (Let's be clear: One way or another the oil is going to be extracted and used by someone).
Rejection was always going to be the wrong call. But the president compounded his mistake by dragging the decision out over seven years -- time the oil and gas industry could have used to adjust plans for oil from Canada to U.S. refineries. Now 800,000 barrels a day will be shipped to China instead.
Looking to his remarks attempting to justify his decision makes the rationale all the more puzzling.
Take this line: "What has increased America's energy security is our strategy... to reduce our reliance on dirty fossil fuels from unstable parts of the world." While I strongly support this goal, I was not aware Canada was an unstable part of the world. Clearly this administration is not aiming to strengthen American energy security, but to wage war on all fossil fuels despite public comments to the contrary.
In his Keystone remarks, the president tried to imply the price of oil and gasoline have fallen during his term of office because of the policies of his administration. In reality, oil and gasoline prices have fallen in spite of having been a rhetorical piñata for the past seven years. Low oil prices for consumers exist because of the ingenuity, the innovation, and the investment of the oil and gas industry. Not because of the federal government.
The hydro-fracturing and horizontal drilling techniques that have made energy in America so readily available have given Americans the lowest energy prices in the world. According to economist Steven Moore, for every penny gasoline prices drop, Americans save $1 billion. Of that, 78 percent gets put right back into the U.S. economy.
When the president proudly proclaimed that our dependence on OPEC oil is down dramatically since he took office, he made it sound like it was his policies that did that, too.
It was not.
The more than 3 million members of the Pickens Plan Army having been calling attention to our dependence on OPEC since 2008. They have worked hard to help their elected representatives -- at their state capitals and in Washington, DC -- understand how important it was to them. Then state-by-state, they set about getting laws and regulations changed to help make domestic natural gas an economically feasible alternative to imported diesel.
Like so much of America's history, progress has come not from the top down, but from the bottom up.
The president has stopped -- at least temporarily -- the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. But, that won't stop the relentless drive for Americans to create, to build, and to advance.
We will get to a day when hydrogen fuel cells or another zero-emissions energy source are the dominant method of powering automobiles and trucks, but it isn't going to be soon. While we work toward that day we still need to move food, goods, and people from points "A" to "B."
We do need a comprehensive infrastructure plan as the president suggested. But even before that we need a comprehensive energy plan, because the way we build out the 21st century infrastructure will depend on what we want to drive on it, sail in it, and fly over it.
We can have a spirited and profitably national debate on what an energy plan should include, but I know this: "No" is not an energy plan and it is not leadership.