Wednesday, July 02, 2008

President Carter's Energy Policy

Largely because of OPEC embargoes and Middle East instability, the United States faced an energy crisis throughout the seventies. In 1976 Jimmy Carter was elected president, and he spoke often about energy and what the US needed to do to avoid these energy price hikes in the future.

Today, in the midst of another round of energy price increases, I have heard a number of people hearken back to the days of President Carter, lamenting the fact that we didn't implement the alternative energy policies he endorsed.

What's interesting to me is the policy they often leave out. What was one of the fundamental planks of his energy policy platform?

Coal.

For instance, in his April 1977 speech on energy, he said,
"We must conserve the fuels that are scarcest and make the most of those that are more plentiful. We can't continue to use oil and gas for 75 percent of our consumption when they make up seven percent of our domestic reserves. We need to shift to plentiful coal while taking care to protect the environment, and to apply stricter safety standards to nuclear energy."
President Carter revisited his energy policy two years later, again advocating a significant increase in domestic coal production and use,
"I'm asking Congress to mandate, to require as a matter of law, that our nation's utility companies cut their massive use of oil by 50 percent within the next decade and switch to other fuels, especially coal, our most abundant energy source."
Had we followed (or been allowed to follow) President Carter's advice, it's likely we'd all be driving electric powered cars right now, with electricity from coal power plants - as well as from alternative energy derived power plants. As technology advanced, those alternatives would have a ready market available to them, slowly replacing coal. $4 a gallon gasoline likely never would have happened, and if it did, nobody would care. We would have produced almost all of our own energy, rather than importing from the unstable Middle East - which robbed us of much of our sovereignty in foreign policy decisions. In fact, had we followed Mr. Carter's advice and used more coal, thereby reducing our dependence on foreign oil, the Middle East could be a vastly different place than it is now.

But who needs peace, prosperity, global stability, and economic freedom when you can create $140 a barrel oil and force "behavior changes" instead?

8 comments:

Salt H2O said...

Why doesn't anyone in Washington address the 'behavior changes' that are apparently going to help our truckers and the cost of running major equipment?

Too bad the Republican Party is a bunch of pansies and hasn't made this a HUGE issue. Enough of the country is sick of paying for gas that if they realized one parties solution is simply to 'use less' they'd be mad as hell.

Democracy Lover said...

In 1977, coal looked like a good option. That was before we knew much about global warming. I doubt Carter would have kept going down that road had he stayed in office.

As for the Republicans, we have to remember that Reagan stopped all Carter's alternative energy and conservation programs within months of his election. We can largely thank Republicans, especially "conservative" Republicans for our current fuel crisis.

Unfortunately for both parties and for the American people, there is no simple solution to the mess we're in. We can't drill our way out of it. We can't quickly put up a couple of dozen nuke power plants. We can't lower the price through conservation overnight either.

The market sure as heck is not going to solve this one. There's way too much money to be made at today's prices. Of course, when we can't afford to drive to work and shop, and can't afford to heat our homes, there might be an economic impact. Trouble is, it won't be one we like.

Cameron said...

So we didn't switch to coal because it causes global warming? Well, I'm sure glad we don't have to worry about that any more!

Mark said...

If we are allowed to drill and refine our own domnestic oil, oil would still be the cheapest, most efficient kind of energy. It would be wonderful if some enterprising someone would come up with a better alternative but so far it hasn't happened. We must drill here. Drill now. Pay less.

Oh, by the way, I'm back with a brand new (political) blog post.

Mark said...

We can't drill our way out of this mess? Who says? The ONLY way out of this mess is to allow the oil companies to drill and refine oil. Saying we can't drill our way out is like saying we can't eat our way out of starvation. Geeeez, Liberal! Get a clue!

Democracy Lover said...

Mark, you need to get informed on this subject. There simply is not enough oil in the US to make a significant impact on prices at the pump. At best we can only get 7-8% of our requirements domestically, and that over a decade or so. Of course, as any free market advocate knows, that additional oil will not flow to the beleaguered American driver, it will be put on the world market and sold to the highest bidder.

As for refining capacity, certainly that might help, but the oil companies have closed refineries over the last years, not opened them. We might want to ask them why. Could those record profits have something to do with it?

Ultimately, the US cannot produce 6% of the world's oil and consume 24% in an era when demand from developing nations is increasing rapidly. With proven reserves only 4% of current production (roughly 1/4 of 1% of world production), how exactly is that going to help? See Basic Petroleum Data for the data.

Cameron said...

DL, I dare you to file papers to build a refinery in this country. Be prepared to spend your next couple decades or so in court. And it won't be the oil companies that put you there.

And the "sell on the world market" thing - if world demand effects our prices, then so does world supply.

Doesn't anyone realize what electric cars would do for our country? We'd produce the electricity domestically (which is HUGE), city smog would be nonexistent, and with that new market demand for alternatives (ie non-coal) would increase just as it has for household electricity.

Too bad it was that great bastion of environmentalism and global warming hysteria - the Reagan administration - that prevented us from following President Carter's plan.

Democracy Lover said...

While it might be difficult to build a new refinery now, why exactly did the oil companies elect to shut down refineries? If there are towns willing to build toxic waste dumps and maximum security prisons in order to get a few precious jobs, I bet you could find one that would take a refinery.

I agree that electric cars are not a panacea. There is no simple solution. We need to look at the big picture - Americans need a robust transport system to sustain our economy. How can we provide such a system or reduce our need for it without continuing or increasing our dependence on fossil fuels? I don't know for sure, but I doubt we can continue to depend on airplanes and automobiles exclusively, regardless of their propulsion systems.

And Happy 4th to you! Let's sit down and read the Declaration of Independence today and think about what it meant to those who pledged their lives and sacred honor long ago, and what it means today.