We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Energy Policy

Thanks goodness the U.S. does not have, has never had, a comprehensive, centralized energy policy.

In my 40 years of reporting on energy and environmental issues, a common theme has been that the U.S. lacks, and needs, an energy policy. Baloney. When you hear or read about how the U.S. needs an energy policy, hold onto your wallet. It’s almost always someone advocating a particularly energy technology or business who wants your money.

Here’s some of what the U.S. has accomplished in the absence of an official, government-approved energy policy:

* According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, in the past 35 years (since 1980, when ACEEE was formed), energy usage in the U.S. has increased 26%, while energy use per real dollar of gross domestic product has been cut in half, “from 12.1 thousand BTUs per dollar in 1980 to 6.1 last year.”

* The U.S. was the world’s largest producer of petroleum and natural gas in 2014, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. EIA says that’s going to continue this year.

* World crude oil prices have fallen from over $100/barrel to just over $50/barrel, and natural gas has become far cheaper than coal, in large part due to U.S.-invented directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology.

* U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have been trending lower since 2007 (although the worldwide economic recession no doubt played a role in that), despite the U.S. refusal to join international regulatory regimes or pass national carbon reduction legislation.

* Renewable energy and natural gas electricity generation have been climbing dramatically while coal-fire power is falling off a cliff. Coal’s decline is due to market forces, not regulation or campaigns by overwrought environmentalists, such as former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

* The feared Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has been defanged. Bloomberg noted recently, citing EIA data, that “U.S. imports of oil and petroleum products from OPEC have fallen to a 28-year low….”

Many other developed countries, particularly in Europe, have followed the energy policy false path over the past 40 years. It hasn’t worked anywhere, as governments are showning themselves to be far less capable of charting the future than reliance on private-sector markets. Europe has high energy prices (often by design), sees CO2 emissions increases (even though they all signed on to the failed 1997 Kyoto Protocol), and, particularly in Germany and the U.K., have had to resort to coal-fired generation to save its electricity market.

While not entirely attributable to energy policy or lack thereof, the U.S. economy has greatly outperformed the EU in recovering from the 2008 Great Recession.

The Christian Science Monitor recently reported on an International Energy Agency analysis lamenting that the U.S., despite its ongoing energy boom, lacks a focused, clearly-articulated energy policy. “Developments in the U.S. energy sector have bolstered the country’s energy security, sustainability, and economic competitiveness – but challenges remain,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said, calling on the U.S. to articulate an energy policy. I suspect she made that statement with more than a touch of envy.

National Journal recently had an article wringing its hands about the long-term inability of Congress to pass a big energy bill. The article says that Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee is trying to push “a broad energy bill” with hopes of moving something in her committee this month.

The last time Congress managed to slide “comprehensive” energy legislation through the sausage machine was 2007. That year’s “Energy Policy Act” has proven to be a dead letter. Nothing in it has had a significant impact on the progress the nation has made in energy since then.

The U.S. has long had a sensible, pragmatic, but unspoken, energy policy. It’s called muddling through. It works far better than focused, centralized attempts to outthink and direct huge markets beyond the ability of Congress and bureaucrats to even comprehend.

Energy policy? We don’t need no stinkin’ energy policy!