Energy Independence and American Opinion

By Karyn:

Energy policy and technology are growing in popularity, with most Americans displaying the belief that energy should be an important priority for the nation. What do you think?

Read the following list. Do you think these people should be doing more or less to address global warming?

  • Local government officials
  • State legislators
  • Your government
  • US congress
  • The President
  • Corporations/Industry
  • You
  • Your community (other citizens)

Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, strongly oppose these policy programs:

  • Renewable energy research
  • Tax rebates for efficient cars or solar panels, or other energy efficiency purchases
  • Regulate pollution from Carbon Dioxide or other Green House Gases
  • Expand offshore drilling
  • Require utilities to provide 20% clean energy
  • Sign international treaty to cut emissions
  • Eliminate all federal energy subsidies
  • Build more nuclear power plants.

Since November 2008, the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University has been asking Americans these questions (and many more). You can read the results here and visit the summary website here. Here are some visuals of what they found in March 2012:

The results display a lot of public debate in recent years about the issue, although the general trend is showing that people are becoming more worried about the current state of energy and, perhaps surprisingly, most are also concerned about global warming.

US public opinion over time since 2008

US public opinion in March 2012

These days, even 51% of Republicans believe energy should be at least a “high priority.” When you combine that group with those who think energy should at least be a medium level priority you end up with 84% of all Republicans!

The recent Republican Convention in Tampa, FL is still news, so I’d like to reflect on some talking points gathered during that event.

Some of you may have noticed that Romney and Ryan both discussed energy issues in combination with the economy during their convention speeches last week. It will be very interesting to see how the candidates frame this debate. Most Americans (58%) believe environmental protection will have a positive effect on the economy. Only 17% predict a negative effect.

Perhaps, the most expected (considering the Reagan policies I commented about in my last post), is that there appears to be bi-partisan support for the elimination of all energy subsidies.

Back to History: Energy Subsidies

No government intervention in energy technology? That’s kind of scary/awesome. What does it really mean?
Short answer: We don’t really know.

Reagan almost eliminated energy subsidies in 1988. Only Nixon’s “Windfall Profits Tax” had long protected energy industries from tax burdens during moments of excellerated breakthroughs. For the most part, this protected oil and gas, but also provided room for the solar industry to experiment with various technologies.

(See this historical research report written for Congress in 2008. Chapter CSA-6 details much of what I have summarized here.)

In 1988, Reagan let this legislation expire and started over. As early as 1982, he had already halved energy subsidies. The end goal was to create a true free market, where fossil nor renewables were given any tax advantages. He wanted government out of the energy industry and ran on this platform in his 1980 campaign. Perhaps the most shocking was his support for a true price on gas, claiming that high gas prices led to conservation and innovation among people and the producers.

In 1981, 1983, and 1984 Reagan revised the National Energy Policy Plan to express the same free market approach. By 1988 he was finally able to make something happen. Alas, Congress didn’t completely buy his idea and by the end of the 1988 a few subsidies for oil and gas remained. Some tax credits for renewable businesses also stuck.

Policy did not begin to address the energy industry again until 1990 and 1992, when the focus shifted to energy independence. We’re still talking about energy independence today, so where is the end?

What would a 1988 United States without government intervention in the energy industry have looked like? What would a 2012 version of this look like?

How would it effect the price of oil, gas, coal, solar, wind, geothermal and our various other sources?

The big question, really appears to be;

Where is my flying, hover car?!?

I think we can all agree: enough ideas already, let’s make it happen!

So, free market or government intervention?

I think it depends and that it is most likely a combination of both aspect. Perhaps, even a completely new approach will surface over the campaign season. Originality in politics? Don’t hold your breath). For me, I think industrial strength matters. By that, I mean the success of the industry in a global market.

My measure can be summarized with the following question: how well is energy technology X doing on a global scale? Perhaps a free energy market is part of the answer. I am definitely willing to talk about the option of it, but we have to consider the global picture.

A lot of the political speeches we heard at the Republican convention discussed presidential policies versus those recommended by expert advisors. Here is what the Congressional experts had to say recently about energy subsidies:

Source: Congressional Budget Office

That’s all for now folks. Check out these links for more.

Please share your thoughts, all are welcome and will receive a thoughtful response.

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