Bush's 'National Energy Policy' is an Unabashed Charade for a Private Sector 'Energy Feast'
In the ongoing search for a viable national energy strategy, Bush's "National Energy Policy" (made public in Dick Cheney's Report of the National Energy Policy Development Group, released May 17, 2001) is a naive and uninformed junior brother of Nixon's "Project Independence." Except that now, some twenty-seven years later, there is no excuse for its many faults.
In 1973, the US was reeling from the consequences of oil supply disruptions. In response to public outrage and a nascent, pressing new understanding of a major national vulnerability, the urgency of an energy crisis was real enough. In 1974, president Nixon announced a new initiative he called "Project Independence". It was an ambitious plan that aimed to make the US energy independent from imports by 1985. Its focus was exclusively on increasing domestic energy supplies.
That year, 1974, as part of furious efforts designed to make the Project happen, I was responsible for developing a national Energy Supply Planning Model, and then applying it - for the US Department Of Energy (then the Federal Energy Administration) - to check the feasibility of that Project. We experimented with a large number of strategies of increasing oil and gas drilling and coal mining, adding energy infrastructure such as refineries, transmission lines, pipelines, and increasing the number of on-line power plants.
We failed. Our studies showed conclusively that it was not possible to accomplish the purpose of the Project. No matter how hard we tried, the Project was not feasible within the time, conventional technologies, and the natural and human resources available, and required vast capital outlays. Subsequently, Project Independence was abandoned.
Today, having the benefit of some twenty-five years of understanding that national policy can radically hasten the commercialization of conservation and renewable energy technologies, it is easy for those who make energy strategy their careers to see what was wrong with Nixon's Project Independence. It relied exclusively on increasing non-renewable domestic energy supplies. Using energy forecasts based on simple extrapolation of energy consumption trends as if they were inevitable, Project Independence also misunderstood the government's policy-making role to be solely one of increasing conventional supplies to meet (grossly erroneous) forecasts of future "consumption".
Bush's "Energy Policy", because of Mr. Bush's peculiar charter to the authors of the "policy", makes the same mistakes. It also takes "business as usual forecasts" of future energy consumption for factual predictions, and pretty much ignores both conservation and renewable technologies as factors of public policy. And that, in spite of the fact that in the intervening years some of these technologies have been proven to be cost-effective means of energy policy that can rapidly and profoundly influence the national energy balance. By all reckonings, they should be central policy options in any comprehensive national energy strategy. The fact that conservation and renewables are not significant building blocks in Bush's plan seems due to the particular composition of the group of authors that Mr. Bush selected, their corporate world-view and interests, and the specific charter he assigned to them.
There is yet another major flaw. The plan's desperate rush to increase the production of domestic fossil fuel and electricity supplies clashed with Bush's pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, forced a hasty and untenable denial of evidence of global warming, and a unilateral withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol -- in spite of lip service about an "environmentally sound" energy policy. The equally desperate attempt to resuscitate nuclear power is also poor public policy that simply cannot be made to work (more on this in subsequent articles).
How is all this blundering possible?
Dick Cheney's report is what Mr. Bush asked for. In his second week in office, Bush established the National Policy Development Group to "develop a national energy policy designed to help the private sector and, as necessary and appropriate, State and local governments, promote dependable, affordable, and environmentally sound production and distribution of energy for the future"(emphasis mine. See Dick Cheney's report, Overview, p.viii). As a consequence of this incredibly limiting and inappropriate charter for a national policy - it is more a of charter for corporate handouts than it is for a national policy - Bush's "Energy Policy" is the result of a lethal combination of applying the specific interests of giant energy corporations that control oil, gas, and coal, and blatantly ignoring the wealth of competent national energy studies and thinking that exists in our National Energy Laboratories.
If Nixon's Project Independence was merely a harmless "Energy Tantrum", a well-intended experiment that did not work, Bush's "national energy policy" is an unabashed charade for a private sector "Energy Feast". It will only benefit private sector corporate energy giants, and deprive the people of this nation of a positive future. In any event, it is too faulty to stand for a national energy policy.
Meir Carasso received a Ph.D. degree in Engineering from the University of California in Berkeley. During his 33-year professional career, he worked for the US and California governments and in private industry. He lives in Boulder and volunteers his time to selected projects.