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