Points to Ponder: Realities for the national energy policy debate in 2012

By John Tobin

Points to Ponder is an occasional series of thoughts (points) that come to mind and that I can articulate in the written word. They are ponderings because I really do not have any clear answers to the points under consideration. 

This past weekend I was asked to contribute my thoughts on elevating the need for National Energy Policy (NEP) in the 2012 election debate. This request came from Aaron Harber who does the Energy Roundtable on Channel 12 public TV in Denver. In light of the way the debt limit issue is being handled I had to say that I don’t think anyone even has energy on his radar at this time. And unless a real energy crisis (such as the closing of the Straights of Hormuz) it will get minimal attention in this election cycle. 

Getting the Government’s Financial House in order 

I feel that in the 2012 election We the People will finally demand that our government get its financial house in order. The herd will be heard loud and clear by both parties. Partisan politics will not be tolerated. A congressman can hold what may be viewed as “extreme” views. However, he will be required to work for the common good through deliberation, debate, deal making (compromise) and decision. 

Yet, I don’t think that the current process is what our founding fathers had in mind with the checks and balances between the branches of government and with the differing opinions of our elected representatives. This has devolved into what is called “Gridlock”, that many see as a good thing because government becomes incapable of messing things up. However, gridlock and the avoidance of the responsibilities to govern (kicking the can down to kicking other generations in the can) cannot be tolerated any longer. Just look at the placing of our sovereign debt on credit watch as one of many votes against this mode of governing. 

While the debt crisis is real, it represents past promises that really cannot be met. This obligation to govern will have to include an admission that government cannot deliver on those promises and they will have to be modified to recognize the evolving demographics of our nation and society’s willingness to pay for them. The real issue is the future obligations that government can deliver and at what price. 

This is governance. At least I hope so. 

An opportunity to do real prep work for a future NEP 

So NEP just doesn’t seen to rise to the same level of importance at this time. Nevertheless, I did offer some ideas based on the opportunity that this low priority offers. First of all, while well-reasoned, long-term, sustainable National Energy Policy (NEP) has eluded this nation since Col. Drake’s first oil well, it remains a fond hope and dream of mine. However, with the focus on our financial situation, NEP may have to take a back seat until we see what the economic and political realities are. In the meantime there is a lot of groundwork that can be initiated to help assure that any NEP will indeed be well-reasoned and sustainable. 

I have been working with the National Petroleum Council (NPC) helping the two current studies requested by the Secretary of Energy, tentatively titled Prudent Development of North American Gas and Oil and Future Transportation Fuels, in the area of “effective outreach”. While this concept is aimed at making these studies better understood by their target audiences and the general public, the energy education component has been recognized as critical in gaining public understanding and support for any resulting policy that may come out of these studies. 

The opportunity I see here is to get the all of the energy industry to follow the recommendations regarding energy education and initiate programs to develop a truly energy literate public that will demand this elusive well-reasoned NEP. That fundamental educational message is that energy1, the economy2 and the environment3 are interlocked and must be addressed together in understanding the role energy plays in our daily lives and, therefore, in any future NEP. 

Some Definitions – From the Energy Education Forum, 2006 

Energy Education
 

“Energy education is a means to achieving an energy-literate society. Energy education is similar to the process of teaching an individual how to read. It does not try to influence that individual as to what to read. Its objective is a fundamental understanding of the role energy plays in society’s daily life. Energy information programs build off of this fundamental education base and can be aimed at behavior.” 

An Energy-Literate Public 

“An energy-literate public is a society that understands and appreciates the role energy plays in its economic wellbeing and the economic cost energy production and use has on society’s (environmental) quality of life. Such a society is capable of making informed, well-reasoned decisions as to its choices for its usage of energy. Such a society is capable of directing its elected representatives to formulate stable and sustainable energy policy reflecting those choices. 

It should also be noted that an energy-literate public could make energy choices that might not match the desires or agendas of many promoting energy education programs. Nevertheless, we must all be able to accept such informed, well-reasoned decisions.” 

In the meantime 

The energy industry will continue to be a target for new governmental revenues, which, of course, will be paid for by the consumer. Nevertheless, the public will continue to get the BTUs that fuel our economy. 

I will repeat one point from my 7/18/11 Points to Ponder, Is Government the Problem or the Solution? Would the base energy industry give up its tax preferences, if all other forms of energy would also give up their tax preferences? A consensus offer like that would certainly put energy in a different light and could contribute to the efforts to find some solutions for the bigger financial problem at hand. 

1 Energy is all forms of BTUs. Oil, gas and coal are only subsets of energy, very important subsets, but from the perspective of energy education, still just a subset. 

2 We the People establish not only the price we are willing to pay for environmental pristineness and for the energy we need to fuel our economy, but also all the services we want from government. We just have to speak up and speak up we will. 

3 Giving credit where credit is due, this administration is the first to state that environmental and energy policy are one in the same. 

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John Tobin has been the Executive Director of the Energy LITERACY Project. For more of John Tobin’s insights on energy price forecasting see: Confessions of and Energy Price Forecaster



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