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US Energy Policy and the Power of Lobbying

U.S. Energy Policy is a strange beast. Everybody knows that there are serious problems. We consume almost a quarter of global oil supply. Our power grid is outdated. In 2010, we emitted over 5.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide. We have no real national energy strategy. Part of the problem is the power of the US Energy lobby. From national publicity campaigns to significant personal and party political contributions, this influence is far reaching and profound.  We need to escape the influence of various energy lobbies and free ourselves from the fossil fuel addiction.

Several sustainable energy lobbies helped augment America’s infamous ethanol production, now widely hailed as a short-sighted and socially destructive energy policy. In a world with over one billion chronically malnourished, the annual corn consumption for U.S. biofuel production could feed around 400 million people. Based on the current U.S. renewable fuel standard, around fifty percent of the U.S. corn crop will be dedicated to ethanol by 2015. In spite of such profound repercussions domestically and around the world, the U.S. has blatantly pursued ethanol production, neglecting responsibility within the international community.

Ironically, encouraging an ethanol boom inflated pressures on corn prices, causing some of the largest ethanol producers such as Hawkeye Energy and VeraSun to file for bankruptcy.  Republican Senator John McCain recently commented on the “outrageous power” of the ethanol industry, blaming its influence for the rejection of a recent amendment. However, U.S. senators voted recently in favor of repealing ethanol subsidies, saving the government over $6 billion annually. From an international viewpoint, the damage may already been done. After the 2008 and 2011 food crises, U.S. ethanol policy may have tainted America’s reputation around the world.

The Keystone XL Pipeline extension, first proposed in 2008, threatened to be an environmental hazard spanning the United States. TransCanada, the pipeline’s operator and proprietor increased its lobbying expenditure significantly, from $40,000 in 2006 to almost $800,000 in 2011, as the important regulatory decisions were being made. Moreover, some former TransCanada lobbyists held senior posts within the administration, including the former heads of Clinton’s election campaign. It has also emerged that State Officials provided TransCanada with advice, detailing methods for countering arguments against the pipeline’s extension: not only did TransCanada itself invest vast sums into lobbying, but it has influential friends within the government.  This powerful crusade for the extension of the Keystone Pipeline threatens America’s long term energy strategy.

Following the closing of the Keystone XL Pipeline until after the 2012 election, the Canadian prime minister hinted to President Obama that Canada may change its long term energy strategy to supplying the growing economies of Asia, in lieu of the US market, putting Obama and the administration in a difficult position. Canada is the US’s largest provider of oil, exporting over two million barrels a day to the US in 2010. In the medium term, the US will have to transition towards a low energy, sustainable economy, but it should maintain its main suppliers before it adjusts.

Special interest energy groups have impaired intelligent American energy policy, damaging our international reputation.  Lobbyists and their related parties have held America back in areas where it previously excelled. Things, however, appear to be changing, albeit slowly. The recent delay of the Keystone XL Pipeline, although not a complete rejection, was a positive sign of progress, as is the end of tax credits and many subsidies to biofuel producers. There are still areas that must be improved. The twenty-first century will undoubtedly be among America’s and humanity’s most challenging. The last thing that America needs is a further degradation of its international standing. By not succumbing to lobbying and by taking decisions which may be unpopular, America’s leaders may finally be able to leverage the American creative power to create a just, sustainable and conscientious energy policy, and to make right, what we previously made so wrong.

Jason Parisi is a freshman in Pierson College.


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