Repeating past mistakes seems to be a recurring theme in federal policy, and nowhere more so than on energy issues. Much of the Obama administration’s “clean energy economy” and “energy independence” agenda is a virtual repeat of the follies of the 1970s. Back then, failed attempts by Washington to pick winners and losers among alternative energy sources and energy-using technologies led to taxes, regulations, and subsidies that exacerbated the very concerns they were supposed to address.
Indeed, one of the Reagan administration’s greater—though lesser-remembered—economic successes was the repeal of much of this government meddling beginning in 1981. Reagan’s turn away from energy central planning and toward free markets brought down energy costs and helped launch a long period of economic growth.
This decades-old lesson may be lost on younger politicians, bureaucrats, and activists who may be unaware that their energy policy ideas are proven failures from the age of disco. But the same cannot be said of efforts to enact a federal renewable electricity standard (RES), which would be a near-exact repeat of a blunder that was launched just a few short years ago—the renewable fuels mandate. The requirement that ethanol be added to the nation’s gasoline supply has quickly proven to be an economic and environmental failure. Congressional proposals mandating wind and other renewable sources of electricity show all the signs of becoming a similar flop, but with far more serious implications.