Thursday, March 6, 2008

“The Energy Trap”

Newsweek: US Election and Energy Policy
“The Energy Trap”
Guest columnist, David Victor, Professor, Stanford Law School

Everyone is banking that “a new regime in Washington will put the United States on a more sustainable energy path.” As we’ve learned in class, U.S. energy policy is deemed incoherent – there are too many stakeholders and actors, and a vast diversity of resources and their impacts. In agreement, Victor claims “it is extremely unlikely that Washington will ever supply a coherent energy policy, regardless of who takes the White House in November.” There are too many disconnects between government agencies and political groups. Everyone has a dog in the fight, a stake in the ground, a needle on the cactus – okay I made up that last one – so opposition to any policy on any level comes from any and every direction. Victor claims “the only policies that survive in a political vacuum are those that target narrower political interests with more staying power,” like corn-based ethanol promotion with strong coalitions behind it.

The Obama and Clinton energy agendas hardly offer stark differences, and really reflect nothing more than the Democratic Party’s energy plans. I think the message Victor is sending here is simple – Don’t get your proverbial panties in a wad over these candidates’ energy policies – and I tend to agree. He thinks U.S. energy policy is likely to remain disjointed as ever. He doesn’t see national security mongers, environmentalists, labor unions, farmers, and Washington all combining together like Earth, Fire, Wind, Water and Heart to peacefully save our planet. The issues are too complex and he doesn’t see radical policy realignment coming together like the Planeteers’ rings or a sweet group high-five. I can dig that – we should be careful to put too much faith in a single man or woman in revolutionizing our country’s energy mix.

Then Victor goes on to be such a negative nancy that I start to question everything I’ve just written. He claims Europe is on a path to screw themselves in energy policy, then Asia too. In his pessimistic view, the whole world is doing it wrong. Well, if that’s the case, we’ll just play with the team we’ve got and see who wins.

Last, he gives major credit to environmental groups for having a strong core in backing global warming policy which then drives energy policy. Thanks, Professor.

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