The U.S. energy revolution is not confined to a single fuel or technology: oil and gas production, renewable energy, and fuel-efficient automobile technologies all show great promise. To best position the country for the future, U.S. leaders should capitalize on all these opportunities rather than pick a favorite; the answer lies in ‘most of the above.’ – Michael Levi
Michael Levi has a new article in Foreign Affairs entitled America’s Energy Opportunity, subtitle How to Harness the New Sources of U.S. Power. This essay is adapted from Levi’s recent book The Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle for America’s Future.
The whole article is well worth reading, below are some excerpts:
The energy revolution is splitting Americans into two rival camps: one that is enthusiastic about the resurgence of oil and gas and another that favors renewable sources and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks. The first camp typically rejects government support for renewables and advanced automobile technologies, warning that it wastes taxpayer money and threatens the country’s economic health. The second camp often opposes efforts to enhance U.S. oil and gas production, arguing that these fuels pose grave risks to the environment and could kill progress on clean energy.
Both camps raise important concerns, but each regularly overstates its case — especially when it claims that the other’s gains are intolerable. The truth is that the best way to strengthen the American economy, bolster national security, and protect the environment is for the country to take advantage of all the new energy opportunities. No single fuel or technology can solve the country’s problems: increased oil production will not free the United States from involvement in global petroleum markets, natural gas alone will not solve climate change, renewables remain expensive, and vehicles that do not rely on oil are far from being broadly economically competitive. The central challenge, therefore, is figuring out how to capitalize on all the new opportunities, which will require enthusiasts of different energy sources to start cooperating, or at least to stop fighting so bitterly. Leaders around the country, and particularly in Washington, need to adopt a most-of-the-above approach: carefully increasing opportunities for energy production of all kinds, while penalizing dangerous energy consumption that would worsen climate change and sustain U.S. dependence on oil.
Fortunately, the United States does not need to make a stark choice; it can take advantage of all the major changes under way in the energy world by pursuing a two-pronged strategy. First, Washington should expand and sustain opportunities for energy production across the board by reforming regulations and making investments in innovation. Second, in order to blunt broad economic, security, and climate risks, it should pursue an ambitious policy, focused on how the United States uses energy, that reduces U.S. carbon emissions and oil consumption.
[see original article for details of Levi's proposals]
Some people will enthusiastically embrace every element of this agenda. But many others will take issue with one part or another. There will be concerns about the ultimate ends — particularly among people who think that climate change is unimportant or that Washington does not need to protect Americans from turmoil in world oil markets. More frequently, the two major camps will disagree about means, with one side intensely opposing new regulations on industry and additional government spending and the other just as forcefully rejecting any expansion of fossil fuel production. It would best serve both sides, however, to accept a broad approach rather than digging in and fighting narrowly for their ideal outcomes.
Coming around to that conclusion will require both sides to accept two facts. The first is that each has considerably more power to hinder its opponent’s agenda than to promote its own. Historically, opponents of fossil fuels have been successful in preventing large expansions of the federal land available to oil and gas development. More recently, opponents of fracking have waged campaigns that have put expanded use of that technology at risk. The opponents of renewables and fuel-efficient automobiles have been even more successful: they have thwarted serious climate legislation and mounted effective resistance to new government investment in energy innovation. Consequently, the alternative to a path that embraces a diverse set of developments is likely to be not victory for the fossil fuel enthusiasts or for the renewables and fuel-efficiency advocates but rather unending disputes that damage core interests on both sides.
The second fact is that compromise need not be fatal for anyone. People who are worried about climate change are right that unfettered fossil fuel consumption is unacceptable. But that does not mean that accepting some fossil fuel development would destroy their cause — in fact, in the case of natural gas, it would help. Meanwhile, those who are worried about state intervention in the economy are right to criticize inflexible and indiscriminate government regulations. But not all schemes to curb emissions or to protect communities from the downsides of energy development fit that bill. A most-of-the-above agenda would eliminate the genuine deal killers for each side, leaving a package that could deliver the essentials of what both want, take advantage of gains across the board, and avoid the risk of an extended battle that would devastate everyone and satisfy no one.
It would be foolish to expect either side in this decades-old fight to lead the charge for a most-of-the-above approach. It would also be unreasonable to ask the two sides to stop skirmishing over individual decisions, such as opening new areas to oil and gas development or establishing a carbon-pricing scheme. The burden of advancing this agenda ultimately rests with U.S. leaders. President Barack Obama has advocated an energy policy that, as his first term evolved, became increasingly consistent with this sort of approach, but there is much more work to be done. Using legislation and executive action, Obama and a core group of lawmakers should push forward with a most-of-the-above energy strategy. The result would be a stronger economy, a more secure country, and a safer planet.
JC comments: I find this to be a very good article, and I was particularly struck by the following insight:
Each has considerably more power to hinder its opponent’s agenda than to promote its own. Consequently, the alternative to a path that embraces a diverse set of developments is likely to be not victory for the fossil fuel enthusiasts or for the renewables and fuel-efficiency advocates but rather unending disputes that damage core interests on both sides.