U.S. Energy–Environmental Policy Issues

Addressing energy issues in the twenty-first century will require bringing environmental issues into any planning process. Environmental degradation can rarely be avoided during the process of obtaining and using energy in developed countries. Any energy policy should be extremely sensitive to activities that may damage the environment for decades or generations to come. Any energy policy should also be built with safeguards for the retention of environmental quality, rather than considering this issue as an afterthought. Nonetheless, the current energy crisis should be studied and analyzed. Corrective adjustments will have to address the existing balance between issues of environmental quality and issues of national energy independence. These adjustments should be directed at reducing many of the short-term uncertainties that presently exist.

The United States clearly needs a farsighted energy policy that is compatible with environmental objectives, especially as they relate to the protection of public health. Such a policy should embrace both conservation and greater reliance on domestic energy resources other than just petroleum and natural gas (e.g., coal). Conservation efforts must therefore be a major ingredient of a national energy policy. Business as well as consumers can substantially constrain electrical energy consumption. More energy-efficient products and processes already exist, and more can continue to be developed. Conservation efforts are vital but will not in themselves result in the energy savings necessary to make the United States significantly less dependent on foreign sources.

Any U.S. energy policy will rest on a legislated foundation. The urgency of the present energy problems demands decisive congressional action. However, Congress must act with wisdom and deliberation, and it must process contradictory information to formulate a sense of the public will. This will ultimately and hopefully result in an implementable energy policy backed by cogent and enforceable rules and regulations.

The United States has survived over the years because it has reconciled many opposing viewpoints in a balanced and responsible manner. In the implementation of environmental laws, however, this has not always been the case. The public should demand reasoned judgments in the search for equitable solutions to these difficult problems. The success in achieving economic growth with environmental quality also depends on well-reasoned public interest decisions. Continually meeting energy goals and economic growth targets, along with environmental quality, is essential. Finally, energy production and environmental improvement need not be conflicting goals. Both can be achieved for the benefits of all Americans and the economy under a reasonable policy. Some individuals believe environmental protection should be pursued above all other national goals. Others advocate growth and production as the lone objective. But either of these extremes would impose excessive societal costs on the United States—costs that are neither desirable nor necessary.

General Overview/Comments

Some general comments on energy-environmental interactions are provided next. This list is not comprehensive; rather, it is an attempt to introduce the reader to some of the more important issues [3]:

  • 1. The chronic worldwide energy gap challenges world economic stability, international security, and domestic employment. A vast redistribution of wealth and political power is taking place in the world.
  • 2. U.S. industry finds its present status of materials, costs, and productivity disrupted.
  • 3. Uncertainty is widespread.
  • 4. A national energy plan (NEP) is long overdue.
  • 5. The implementation of a NEP will require a careful and pragmatic look at the validity of underlying assumptions and its feasibility as well as the capital costs and how they will be affected by political and monetary uncertainties in addition to the state of the economy.
  • 6. What society can reasonably expect from industry planning in appropriately addressing substitutions to primary energy sources and conservation.
  • 7. What society can expect from the vagaries of regulation is a misallocation of resources and institutional rigidities as well as problems in industry, government, and education.
  • 8. There are changes in corporate policies and operations in both supply and demand management, in scheduling and financing new facilities, and in environmental assessment and public affairs.
  • 9. Research and development (R&D) efforts are increasingly oriented toward problem solving to counteract numerous constraints.
  • 10. A new, hard look at how a NEP and any energy/environment policy trade-offs could be implemented to minimize damage to the economy and safeguard national priorities and societal goals is needed.
  • 11. Any NEP can involve targets requiring investments so large and institutional changes so radical that both private enterprise and the consumer may withhold approval.
  • 12. Many are concerned with optimistic assumptions in the projections of supply and demand of various energy sources.
  • 13. Many energy experts fear that any NEP targets will be unattainable.
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