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RL31720 - Energy Policy: Historical Overview (pdf)
21-Dec-2004; Robert Bamberger; 15 p.
Update: April 13, 2005
Abstract: The persistent attention being given to energy policy has its roots in an
unexpected jump in oil prices that began in the late spring of 1999, following a
production cut by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). This
supply change affecting fuel prices was the fourth significant episode since 1973 to
jog American awareness of the extent to which the U.S. economy and lifestyle
depends on inexpensive and plentiful energy. When the United States experiences a
period marked by sharp increases in the price for energy and concern about the
adequacy of essential supplies, there is widespread concern that the nation has no
energy policy. The nation has, in fact, adopted several distinct policy approaches
over the years, many of the debates turning around the question of the appropriate
extent of the federal government's role in energy.
The fashioning of national energy policy is complicated by the fact that a review
of the years since the time of the Arab oil embargo and first oil price shock in 1973
reveals that it is more accurate to see this 30-year period as one of general price and
supply stability that is periodically broken by shorter episodes of supply disruption
and price volatility. It isnít so much that energy policy has failed to be responsive to
crises; rather, during lengthy periods of stability and declining prices for conventional
fuels, it has proven difficult to sustain certain policy courses that might help shield
the nation from the occasional episodes of instability. Awareness has also grown
about the complexity of constructing a balanced energy policy that will not
undermine other competing and equally legitimate policy goals.
Traditionally, the energy debate has been the most vigorous over the balance to
be struck between increasing supply and encouraging conservation. However, when
markets are unstable, debate turns on another axis as well, that of short-term versus
long-term policies. There are other alternatives. For example, tax policy can affect
energy price directly to the extent that excise taxes on fuel products can be raised or
lowered. Programs such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
(LIHEAP) can provide direct assistance to families whose quality of life is especially
burdened by high energy prices. Lastly, Congress always has the option to require
study and analysis of a problem before settling on a policy course.
Energy policy issues of continuing interest include whether or not to open up the
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for leasing; settlement upon a pipeline
route to allow production of Alaskan natural gas; access to public lands for energy
exploration and development; restructuring of the electric utility industry to
encourage competition and consumer choice; raising corporate average fuel economy
(CAFE) standards for motor vehicles; seeking effective means to promote energy
conservation using currently available technologies; and development of new
technologies and alternative fuels.
This report has been prepared at the outset of the 109th Congress to provide
background context, and will not be updated.
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