Still Missing: A National Energy Policy
Jonathan Becker. Jonathan Becker is an energy policy analyst ., The Christian Science Monitor
CONGRESS is scurrying to finish business on the country's well-known need for an energy policy. Many Americans have been thinking less about the issue since Saddam Hussein left Kuwait, but energy is still vitally important to the United States economy and environment - and still mishandled by Congress. Current legislation may represent Congress's best effort - which suggests that the federal government is incapable of resolving the energy issue.
In meetings held nationwide over the last few years to solicit citizen input into the national energy strategy, the most frequent observation was that the nation needs more efficient use of energy.
Efficiency does not mean discomfort. It means modernizing homes and businesses to save money and compete in overseas markets. Japan and Germany use half as much energy to produce goods as the US does, reducing their cost of production.
It also means addressing poor air quality, global warming, radioactive waste, ozone-layer depletion, and other energy-related threats.
Instead of emphasizing energy efficiency and a rapid development of solar, wind, and other clean, unlimited sources of energy, President Bush's energy strategy - sponsored in Congress by Sens. Bennett Johnston (D) of Louisiana and Malcolm Wallop (R) of Wyoming - was another special-interest grab bag, with only modest provisions for encouraging energy efficiency and renewable energy.
The Johnston-Wallop bill proposed severe limitations on citizen participation in the licensing of nuclear power plants - essential in discovering and correcting dangerous flaws in nuclear reactors.
Johnston-Wallop also proposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. How much oil is there is uncertain, but drilling for a finite amount in a pristine natural area and using it poorly increases harm to the environment and stalls real alternatives to dependence on unstable foreign sources of energy.
Johnston-Wallop died, under combined pressure from environmental organizations opposed to oil drilling in Alaska and automobile manufacturers opposed to even the weak, vague provisions for higher automobile efficiency.
To appease the opposition, Johnston-Wallop was stripped of the drilling provisions and automobile-efficiency standards and reintroduced earlier this year. …