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March 18, 2013

BRADLEY: New Obama, Old Carter on Energy Policy

March 18, 2013
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Proposals for federal energy planning are old and stale—and perennially misguided.

Last week, President Obama proposed a $2 billion Energy Security Trust to “shift our cars and trucks off oil” to “break this cycle of spiking gas prices.” The $200-million, ten-year program on alternative vehicle technology would increase overall federal energy R&D spending by 10 percent—and 25 percent in the field of transportation.

The proposal is inconsistent with a number of trends, not to mention the need to reduce the federal budget.  There is a domestic oil boom being held back by the Obama Administration that addresses the problem without a new federal program. Electric vehicles (EVs) have been a perennial failure, with and without taxpayer support, for more than a century.

Environmentalists have demoted EVs as “elsewhere emission vehicles” since so much electricity is generated by fossil fuels. Natural gas vehicles are finding their own niche without government intervention into the consumer-driven market.

Obama speaks about “saving money,” “saving the environment,” and “national security.” National planning is always cloaked in vague, high-sounding, even alarmist rhetoric—and has been for many decades.

In the 1930s, the U.S. Department of Interior sought “a national energy resources policy in the interest of national defense, conservation and economic betterment.”[i]  “Our energy crisis is an invisible crisis,” said Jimmy Carter back in 1977. “Unless the U.S. makes a timely adjustment before world oil becomes very scarce and very expensive in the 1980’s, the nation’s economic security and the American way of life will be gravely endangered.”[ii]

Here is some more Jimmy Carter from 35 years ago:

“[T]he price of all energy is going up, both because of its increasing scarcity and because the price of oil is not set in a free and competitive market…. Our biggest problem, however, is that we simply use too much and waste too much energy.

[My] energy plan is a good insurance policy-for the future, in which relatively small premiums that we pay today will protect us in the years ahead. But if we fail to act boldly today, then we will surely face a greater series of crises tomorrow–energy shortages, environmental damage, ever more massive Government bureaucracy and regulations, and ill considered, last-minute crash programs.”

“I hope that, perhaps a hundred years from now, the change to inexhaustible energy sources will have been made, and our Nation’s concern about energy will be over. But we can make that transition smoothly–for our country and for our children and for our grandchildren-only if we take careful steps now to prepare ourselves for the future.”

Compare this to President Obama’s address last week:

“After years of talking about it, we’re finally poised to take control of our energy future…. [F]ew pieces of business are more important for us than getting our energy future right.”

“[Federal] scientists are working on getting us where we need to get 10 years from now, 20 years from now [to overcome high gasoline] prices…. Let’s set up an energy security trust that helps us free our families and our businesses from painful spikes in gas once and for all.”

“And by the way, the private sector on its own will not invest in this research because it’s too expensive. It’s too risky. They can’t afford it in terms of their bottom lines. So we’ve got to support it. And we’ll all benefit from it, and our kids will benefit from it, and our grandkids will benefit from it. That’s who we are. That’s been the American story.”

“I am absolutely confident that America is poised to succeed in the same way, as long as we don’t lose that spirit of innovation and recognize that we can only do it together. And I’m going to work as hard as I can every single day to make sure that we do, all right?”

Conclusion

Centralized government planning is not what American ingenuity and progress are about, contrary to Obama’s energy worldview. His is an old siren song for more government to address energy problems that existing government intervention have wrought. Whether proposed in the New Deal, during the 1970s energy crisis, or today, a different path of greater market reliance is called for.



[i] Report of the Energy Resources Committee to the National Resources Committee, Energy Resources and National Policy, (National Resources Committee Print: January 1939), Press Release; p. 87 (copy in author’s files).

[ii] Executive Office of the President, The National Energy Plan (Government Printing Office: 1977), pp. iii, vii.


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