October 13, 2008
Book tracks four decades of energy errors
Posted: 12:42 PM ET
My part of the country is recovering from re-living the gas lines of the 1970s.
Thanks to Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, refinery shutdowns brought gas lines back to much of the Southeast U.S. Here in the Atlanta area, most stations were shut down for the past few weeks, and when one got a rare delivery, the tanker truck driver attracted petroleum paparazzis - drivers who follow a delivery truck to its destination. Long story short: Although the gas crisis has eased, it's changed people's behavior, and really gotten inside everyone's head.
Along comes a book that recounts four decades of good intentions and failures in US energy policy. A Declaration of Energy Independence, by former Energy Department official Jay Hakes, is in equal parts a prescription for U.S. energy self-sufficiency, and a pageant of recounting the errors of the past seven Presidential administrations. The book does a good job of staying readable, with Hakes navigating between the dense economics and policy-wonk detail that are a part of our ongoing energy drama. He points out the sins of Republicans and Democrats alike, with each President back to Richard Nixon promising energy independence and then dropping the ball.
Hakes is most charitable to Jimmy Carter, whose earnest and early embrace of conservation and alternative energy was lost in the Reagan Revolution. (Note that Hakes's day job is running the Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta). But he also gives a nod to Ronald Reagan, whose early policies won a short-lived drop in US oil imports. The Reagan Era also saw abrupt reversals in alternative and conservation programs spawned under Nixon, Ford, and Carter.
The author also connects the indisputable dots between oil imports and U.S. foreign policy adventures, from support for the Shah of Iran, the Iranian revolution and hostage-taking that helped bring down Carter, and the subsequent support of Saddam Hussein. Back when Iraq and Iran were at war, we were for Saddam before we were against him. Most telling and prophetic is a quote from President Eisenhower, who said half a century ago that "should a crisis arise (in) Mid East oil, we would have to use force."
The back half of the book focuses not on the sins of the past but on the path to the future. Both liberals and conservatives need to get over their reflexive impulses, says Hakes: The left has to stop demonizing corporations that hold many of the keys to solutions, and recognize that the free market just might have a role in fixing this; the right has to stop viewing any effort to challenge fossil fuels as a sinister conspiracy from Al Gore's Secret Mountain Laboratory, and keep an open mind to energy taxes as another path to solution.
Hakes calls for making energy conservation a "patriotic duty" (I think I recall that from many past good intentions), increasing energy storage capacity, and starting over on how we deal with our cars.
–Peter Dykstra, Executive Producer CNN Science, Tech & Weather
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