Congress is shifting U.S. energy policies toward green alternatives. Is the new direction temporary or permanent?
The late Congressman Morris Udall, D-Ariz., coined his First Law of Politics when observing his colleagues in action: “If you can find something everyone agrees on, it’s wrong.”
Udall’s Law aptly describes recent trends in energy policy on Capitol Hill. Fundamental questions about fuel supply, efficiency standards, and environmental performance have splintered both parties into warring factions. As a result, the only proposals legislators can agree upon seem to be watered down half-measures. Case in point: The corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards passed by the Senate technically mandate no changes until the year 2020.
“It’s very disappointing that even now, with oil at $70 a barrel, we can’t enact sensible guidelines for automakers,” says Gregg Easterbrook, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
Considering the political difficulty of enacting populist and timely legislation like fuel-economy standards, the likelihood of major legislative initiatives affecting electric and gas utilities seems even more remote—especially if conflicts or delays push legislation into 2008, when national election campaigns will begin in earnest (see sidebar “Electrifying the Electorate: Energy Policy and the 2008 Campaigns”).