Presidents Carter and Reagan and the National Energy Policy
It should be clear by now that the country muddled its way into a critical energy-supply problem and a potential disaster because of a bipartisan political commitment that began in the mid-1950s to hold oil and natural- gas prices at bargain-basement levels without regard to the consequences. When lifestyles and working conditions are based on cheap energy supplies, it is hard to change them drastically, even though the price has multiplied many times. In the middle of 1977, the United States was still importing a record 10.29 m/b/d while domestic oil production fell to 7.95 m/b/d. 1 The import bill came to over $43 billion for the entire year of 1977.
Jimmy Carter came to the presidency with a promise to present a comprehensive energy plan and lessen the dependence on OPEC oil. "Our hope is to cut down oil imports drastically by 1985--10 million barrels per day less than the present projected use by that time," the President said later. And "if the American people, business, industry, private persons, as well, will join in an effort to cut down on the waste of oil, then that would be the major contributing factor toward balancing our trade with other countries," he declared. 2
In April 1977, President Carter publicly unveiled his energy plan with true populist rhetoric. He called the energy crisis the "moral equivalent of war" to be won by hardship and perseverance. It was a mammoth, gargantuan, Rube Goldberg-like behemoth, with plans within a plan. Jimmy Carter, who had campaigned on the promise of simplifying government bureaucracy, created instead a maze that the newly established Department of Energy could be busy with for a hundred years. As Secretary of Energy James Schlesinger was fond of saying, the energy plan contained 113 separate initiatives. It was no surprise that it took Congress more than a year to untangle the energy package.