Oil, Waxman-Markey & Obama’s Advantage on Climate Change

It is worth taking a minute to run over to National Journal Online’s Energy-Environment blog to read their ongoing discussion, entitled “Running in Place.” The series reflects on progress made in energy-environment policy in the last thirty years, since President Carter committed that we would never again import as much oil as we did in 1979.

Obviously, Carter could not bring that to reality, and we now import three times as much oil as we did when those words were uttered (from a little over a million barrels a year then to 3.5 M bpy today). “Running in Place” brings together leaders from the energy industry, policymakers and environmental advocates to analyze what has gone right, what has gone wrong, and what needs to happen going forward.

Alas, I was not one of the “invited” participants for the forum. Had I been, I would have answered the NJO’s question: “Has anything changed?” as follows.

President Obama’s push for action on climate change is really only the first bite at the apple. The actions that Carter took (i.e., PURPA amendments) and that subsequent administrations carried forward (i.e., deregulation/PUHCA repeal) were not directed at the energy-environment nexus as we recognize it today.

Those policies viewed energy and the environment as discrete commodities. They were economic policies, aimed at bringing us more affordable energy. They were national security policies, aimed at weaning us from dependence on foreign sources of fuel – especially unreliable or unfriendly sources.

But, Barack Obama has climate change. Things have changed. National security and domestic control and cost may all have been a part of the conversation during the Waxman-Markey debate, but the ballast in that bill is the critical energy-environment linkage.

The bill itself may not have been ideal, and nothing better is likely to pass the Senate, but just this shift in perspective is significant. It is something to build upon. It remains to be seen if Obama can do what Carter promised.

[photo credit: BL1961]

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