Oh Goody—Another Energy Bill!

News out of Washington is that the Senate yesterday passed an energy bill—the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016! Hooray! We’re saved at last! (Assuming, that is, it passes the House, too.) I’m sure it will do at least as much as the energy bills of 2005 and 2007—you remember those, don’t you? It was the Energy Policy Act of 2005—1,725 pages long—that promised to deliver us “clean coal” and included an ethanol mandate that we haven’t met. And also outlawed the incandescent light bulb. And the Energy Security Act of 2007, which promised us magical cars (better even than the magical cars the Clinton administration promised to develop) and cheaper gasoline prices. Fracking? No one had heard of it yet.

Never mind that every previous energy bill going all the way back to the 1970s have been largely a joke, never coming close to their promises or their goals, we always need to have another one because, as GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski said in the Senate yesterday, “Energy is good.” Glad we’re able to agree on that.

You can read the whole details about the bill here, but maybe it isn’t so bad if the Sierra Club doesn’t like it:

“Unfortunately, problematic provisions remain in this bill that would boost dirty fossil fuels and dangerous nuclear projects while undermining the president’s Clean Power Plan and U.S. climate progress,” Sierra Club Legislative Director Melinda Pierce said. “It is clear that a significant amount of bipartisan effort went into this legislation, but, at the end of the day, the balance of this bill favors the dirty and dangerous fossil fuels of the past at a time when we need to move full speed ahead towards an economy powered by clean, renewable energy.”

As Peter Grossman argues in his terrific book U.S. Energy Policy and the Pursuit of Failure, which I’ve just read through for the fifth time with my energy policy class this semester, the right policy most of the time is no policy. In fact, after all the shouting and posturing, the default position of the federal government is to let energy markets decide. And that’s what both politicians and the Sierra Club really hate the most. Which is why the ritual enactment of more energy bills has become as commonplace as resolutions commemorating National Orange Juice Week.

And if you need a refresher on the whole scene, here’s Jon Stewart’s brilliant six-minute review of the history of modern energy policy.


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