AMERICA'S energy policy can be summed up in two words: "import
oil," says Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D) of Louisiana.
Prodded by war in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, Senator Johnston,
President Bush, and other Washington politicians now are crafting
new strategies that may wean the United States from foreign
On Capitol Hill, about two dozen energy-related bills are making
the rounds, including a 264-page document from Johnston. At the
White House, officials are debating a national energy strategy that
could have a dramatic impact on everyone from Detroit automakers to
suburban commuters, from coal miners to manufacturers of windmills.
The challenge is clear. During the past two decades, the world
has experienced three severe oil shocks. All were related to
political instability in the Middle East.
Yet US dependence on Gulf energy supplies is growing.
Although Americans briefly reduced their use of imported oil
during the 1970s and 1980s, the Department of Energy predicts that
US reliance on other foreign petroleum will rise from 42 percent of
consumption in 1989, to 62 percent in the year 2000, and 70 percent
And now, despite the fact that Americans are fighting in Iraq,
national leaders still are not ready to deal with energy problems,
Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, says President
Bush's "short, vague" reference to energy in his State of the Union
address was discouraging. She predicts Mr. Bush will offer "little
more than the same mix of policies that has now embroiled us in an
Johnston, who represents a leading oil state, calls the lack of a
national energy strategy "a colossal failure of will.... Why it's
taken this long, I don't know."
But Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R) of Wyoming says it's not really
puzzling. US energy policy is overseen by 44 committees and
subcommittees of Congress, nine Cabinet secretaries, seven offices
of the president, and three or four independent agencies.
"All are more interested in their turf than in policy," he says.
Energy issues are also highly controversial. Few topics can turn
out more lobbyists, or stir up more politicians than proposals that
would raise prices for gasoline, or reduce tax breaks for the oil
When Johnston and Senator Wallop jointly announced an energy
strategy this week, an army of special-interest representatives
lined up for hours outside the meeting room at the Dirksen office
building. Led by lobbyists like Charles DiBona (annual salary,
$468,408, according to National Journal) of the American Petroleum
Institute, special interests watch over every comma and semicolon of
federal energy policy, and vigorously protect their pocketbooks.
Looking for new answers
For years, federal policy has catered to these interests.
Billions of dollars of subsidies for research and tax preferences
have gone to the petroleum, coal, and nuclear industries.
But as oil fields like Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, begin to run dry,
energy experts are looking for new answers. …