Thursday, June 18, 2009

Energy Failure

All talk of a "federal energy policy" is a fiction. It implies a coherence and direction that just isn't there. An administration can lend some rhetorical and material support to certain energy policy hobby horses, as Obama is doing with so-called "green energy," but focus, discipline and direction are impossible as long as the legislative branch is pushing and pulling in other directions.

Congress is now working on its 3rd major energy bill in 4 years. Each of the previous measures, dating back to 2005, were hailed at the time of passage as a "landmark" measure, offering a comprehensive and holistic "answer" to the nation's energy quandaries. But the fact that Congress keeps writing new "landmark" bills, at a clip of one per year, betrays the terrible truth; that each of the previous measures, like the measure now in the works, brought confusion rather than coherence to the nation's energy policy.

These were essentially pork-barrel bills, larded up with federal largess for industries or niche technologies favored by members of Congress. There is no way for any administration -- even one headed by Obama the Magnificent -- to bring order out of such chaos. And that's why the country is destined to pin-ball from energy crisis to energy crisis, with Congress writing a new "landmark" energy bill in response to each of them, without ever establishing the rational and reality-based energy strategy that an economic powerhouse needs to survive.

I believe Congress pauses for six years between the writing of major highway funding bills. And although this can lead to pork-barrel pillaging on an obscene scale, when the bills periodically come up for renewal, the federal funding formulas and policies then set in place (even if they're flawed) at least bring some focus and coherence to federal highway activities in the years between bills. Perhaps we need to take a similar approach with federal energy bills, by limiting Congress to the passage of one "landmark" measure every five years or so.

A badly-written bill might set the nation on the wrong path for half a decade. But any course of action is arguably better than the paralysis, waste and chaos we see under current circumstances.

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