States Will Tame the Energy Monster

Article excerpt

THE energy policy unveiled recently by President Bush places energy production on a fast track and relegates conservation, once again, to the slow lane.

Some members of Congress responded to the president's disappointing initiative by introducing a flurry of conservation-oriented bills to counter executive inertia. Meanwhile, as the president continues to pursue an energy strategy of business as usual and Congress is scurrying for an acceptable alternative, some states have taken the lead in developing tough-minded energy strategies.

Since last November, the nation's governors sought ways to influence the emerging national energy policy. They wrote to Energy Secretary James Watkins: "We believe the principal goal of a national energy strategy should be to provide secure and affordable energy supplies. In ranking the options for meeting that goal, conservation must be a primary concern."

But the word "conservation" has been largely stricken from the president's final product.

Rather than waiting for Washington to lead the way, state governments recognize this energy-conservation leadership vacuum and are preparing to fill it. This sequence - the states leading and Washington reluctantly taking up the rear - has been the pattern of the last decade on major domestic issues.

In the 1960s, the order was reversed. During the civil rights era, a determined president and Congress prodded, pushed, and threatened the states into accepting laws many did not want. Today, it is the voices of governors and legislators which Washington must begin to hear if it is to be responsive to grass-roots concerns about energy use.

A number of states have begun to chart tough conservation strategies, including Vermont. The likely result will be that a serious, conservation-oriented national energy policy will emerge in the 1990s in the same way that education reform, environmental protection, and child care became national issues: via the states.

One reason for conservation's demise is the fear that conservation measures, while desirable, are not politically acceptable to the American public.

State leaders, more distanced from the energy-producing interests and more closely allied with the economic and environmental concerns of their constituents, have a better understanding of the pain the public will bear in return for less costly and more environmentally benign energy.

In Vermont, we developed a comprehensive energy plan for the year 2000 and have begun to model the results. …