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U.S. Energy Policy or Congressional Folly

January 28, 2011

To prove myself wrong that the U.S. lacks a cohesive long-term energy policy, I did what any average person would do, and that is to go to the source almighty or more appropriately called “Google.” Googling “U.S. Energy Policy” resulted in 42,800,000 hits in 0.18 second.  With this many hits either there is a well formulated strategy or it’s so convoluted that not even 40 million hits can adequately cover the turf.

 In any event, the top spots fell to:

1.        Energy policy of the United States – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The energy policy of the United States is determined by federal, state and local public entities in the United States, which address issues of energy …

 2.        Energy & Environment, The White House. Energy & Environment. “Each of us has a part to play in a new future that …. to modernize and reinvigorate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), …

 3.        U.S. Energy Policy. U.S. Energy Policy 2009. The energy challenges our country faces are severe and have gone unaddressed for far too long. Our addiction to foreign oil doesn’t …

 4.        News for us energy policy. The State of the Union Speech: Could You Repeat the Energy Part … Can we just remain confused but happy in the hope that at least we may have the start of an actual US energy policy? I was surprised by President Obama’s …

5.        U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Jan 26, 2011 … Stayed tuned to, as my staff will be following up on some of … Policy & International Affairs, Radiological and Environmental …

6.        Department of Energy – Tax Breaks … Act of 2009 extended many consumer tax incentives originally introduced …

7.        U.S. Energy Policy – Business Exchange. U.S. Energy Policy – updated news, articles and reactions. Find U.S. Energy Policy blogs, resources and related information for business professionals…

8.        Poll: Vast Majority say U.S. Energy Policy Needs Major Changes … CBS News/NYT Poll Finds that Almost All Americans say the Nation’s Energy Policy Needs Fundamental Changes or to be Completely Rebuilt Read …

9.        National Commission on Energy Policy | Bipartisan Policy Center. This report presents key findings from an intensive, three-year effort to develop consensus recommendations for future U.S. energy policy. …

 10.      [PDF] “National Energy Policy” (PDF) – National Energy Policy. NATIONAL ENERGY POLICY viii. Over the next 20 years, growth in U.S. energy consumption will increasingly outpace U.S. energy production, if production only….

 Firstly, it’s gratifying to know that Wikipedia has a better grasp of our policy than does the federal government. Don’t misunderstand me; I have a tremendous amount of respect for Wikipedia in terms of the quality and quantity of their articles. While this doesn’t seem right, maybe it’s just a function of Google’s search algorithm that suggests more people go to Wikipedia than official U.S. websites to find out what the government is doing.

We will leave Wikipedia and go to the second spot “Energy & Environment, The White House.” Now we are cooking and getting close to getting official information. This off-season “State of the Union” message states: “To take this country in a new direction, the President is working with Congress to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation to protect our nation from the serious economic and strategic risks associated with our reliance on foreign oil, to create jobs, and to cut down on the carbon pollution that contributes to the destabilizing effects of climate change.” 

From Clean Energy Economy, Climate Change, and Our Environment this message translates into a litany of federal programs, including:
• Recovery Act Investments in Clean Energy
• Appliance Efficiency Standards
• Leadership in  Sustainability
• Efficiency Standards for Cars and Trucks
• Making Homes More Energy Efficient
• International Leadership
• Monitoring Emissions
• Climate Change Science and Education
• Climate Change Adaptation
• Protecting our Oceans
• Land Conservation
• Restoring our Ecosystems
• Renewing the Federal Commitment to California’s Bay Delta
Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration
• Great Lakes Restoration
• Mercury
• Reduce Environmental Impacts of Mountaintop Coal Mining
• National Environmental Policy Act.

Though not to throw fuel on fire, it is not entirely clear if this is or is not our policy.  In many instances, it takes time to make changes in a rather complex system before realizing the benefits of those changes.  But what makes one skeptical is exemplified by the search results of “U.S. Energy Policy 1990.”  This hit brings us to a 105 page report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology titled “U.S. Energy Policy in the 1990’s. This report discusses U.S. energy policy in terms of the associated evolution of energy supply, energy demand, energy prices and the industrial organization of the domestic energy industries during the period 1991 through 2000. This period covers the last two years of the George H. W. Bush administration and the entire Clinton administration.

 Though a failure in itself, this high-level approach brings together the essential elements necessary to formulate a true, rather than an ad hoc, energy policy. Basic economic terms like supply, demand and prices are missing in the newly released sequel “U.S. Energy Policy Part II; or is it III, IX, or XX.”

It’s too early to predict the outcome of our so-called energy policy; though skepticism is surely in order. To underscore the notion of an absence of a true energy policy, one only has to look at the 11th hour, 59th minute, 30th second passage of a one year extension of the 1603 Renewable Energy Tax Grant program by the Senate on December 17th.

Considering the Grant Program was set to expire on December 31, this rush to judgment is just another in the long laundry list of renewable energy programs that are quasi-crystalline. Like the tail wagging the dog, this knee jerk approach inhibits strategic planning and industry growth. Regardless, of whether an incentive program is the right thing to do, it must be understood that the grant program was a main driver for the strong growth of U.S. renewable energy in 2010. It is fair to say that passage would not have occurred without the political necessity to vote on the $858 billion Middle Class Tax Cut Act of 2010.

Political suicide or not, proponents of renewable energy and those that desire the U.S. to achieve energy security, economic viability and a cleaner environment must stand together and cheer for this late night but insufficient miracle. 

To say this legislation is our strategic energy plan is Poppycock.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 30, 2011 8:56 AM

    Barry, well said. Now we “only” need concerned citizens, who fully undertand the deeper meaning(s) of the points you are pointing at and who have also the guts to chance them.
    Actually, a rather rare combination, even in Germany, my own homeland.

  2. annonymous permalink
    January 30, 2011 5:20 PM


    Nice post.
    You didn’t indicate your predictions for To-Be-Determined America and its energy position.

    What will happen when they wake up and can’t smell the oil anymore? :-)

    –a LinkedIn follower

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