There was a lot a campaign talk about our nation's energy policy, and Bush and Kerry offered their own competing energy plans. With Bush's victory and increased Republican majorities in Congress, the long-stalled energy bill may finally reach passage. But in truth, we don't really need a new national energy policy so much as we need to end our current anti-energy policy. <?xml:namespace prefix = u1 /><?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
Too many politicians and far too many regulators believe the federal government's duty is to oppose energy infrastructure. Goaded by environmental activists and like-minded media, they have treated oil and natural gas wells, pipelines, refineries, electric power plants, transmission lines and the like as bad things that need to be stopped, or at least severely limited.
This was particularly true during the Clinton Administration, whose only real contribution to the nation's energy infrastructure was to launch several high-profile legal crackdowns on it. And, despite more pro-energy rhetoric from the current administration, not much has actually changed. Is it any wonder our energy future seems bleak?
Domestic oil production has been declining in recent years, and only part of the reason is limited reserves. Many promising new fields are currently off limits—including the 5.7 to 16 billion barrels estimated by the U.S. Geological Survey to lie beneath <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Likewise, new natural gas production has been held up, as has much-needed natural gas pipelines. And, despite abundant supplies of coal, all but a few new coal-fired electric power plants have been blocked by the federal government.
To the extent this philosophy constitutes our national energy policy, we would be better off without one.
The only truly pro-energy part of our energy policy deals with non-fossil fuel-based alternatives. But billions in pork doled out since the 1970s on wind, solar, biomass, ethanol, and others have not made these alternatives cost effective. The generous tax breaks and federal funding for research and development will likely continue, but there is no reason to expect big breakthroughs any time soon. In fact, the Energy Information Administration estimates that the percentage of electricity generated from renewable sources (excluding hydroelectric) will increase very modestly, from 2.2 percent today to 3.7 percent in 2025.
In contrast to renewables, fossil fuels are clearly not Washington's favorite energy source, but our economy and standard of living will be dependent on them for the foreseeable future.
The federal government has made it hard to maintain the nation's existing energy infrastructure—much less build the necessary additions to it—without running into environmental objections. A few of these objections are legitimate, but most are exaggerated. For example, ANWR drilling would only disturb a very small part of ANWR's 19 million acre expanse. Furthermore, the strong environmental record achieved in Alaska's Prudhoe Bay, where drilling has occurred since the 1970s using technology far less environmentally sensitive than that available today, gives additional reason for optimism. Likewise, state-of-the-art coal-fired power plants are far cleaner than those built decades ago and could be added in significant numbers without jeopardizing the declining trends in air pollution.
Nonetheless, many in Washington equate being anti-energy with being pro-environment. There are formidable federal roadblocks in front of nearly everything the nation will need in order to meet its future energy requirements. In effect, our energy policy has morphed into an anti-energy environmental policy, and acts as a hindrance to a more secure energy future.