top of page

Part VI: Changing National Energy Policy 


The Bush Administration and its Congressional allies have focused on expanding fossil fuel supplies.  In the last few years, US energy prices and dependence on foreign oil have risen, along with oil company profits. [1] Federal spending on energy research and development is microscopic compared to costs of the war in Iraq. [2] Sensible energy initiatives are being developed in some cities and states. [3]


1. Congressional global warming bills

World Resources Institute, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club have evaluated the effectiveness of proposed global warming bills in stabilizing atmospheric carbon emissions at levels that avoid permanent climate destruction.  The Sanders-Boxer Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act, which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, has been endorsed by many environmental groups. [4] 

However, as global warming has accelerated, national policies bolder than this are needed.  The Earth Policy Institute explains why and how worldcarbon dioxide emissions must by cut by 80%, not by 2050 but by 2020.[5]


2. Guiding principles for government action

  • Changes needed. Fundamental changes are needed to respond to climate change and fossil fuel dependence, which must be addressed simultaneously.

  • Simultaneous solutions. Massive investment in efficiency and renewable energy will mitigate both fuel depletion and climate change. The clean energy technologies we have now can scale up to meet all our power needs. [6]

  • Efficiency first. The best and least expensive sources of energy are conservation and efficiency. Start with them before considering new generation. 

  • Acting quickly. Being able to conserve a lot of energy quickly will help with long-term efforts. 

  • Resource depletion and price volatility. Depletion of world oil supplies is driving the current volatility in oil prices, as well as rising demand.  Prices may fluctuate but will tend to increase, permanently.  Transportation costs will go up, and if we don’t prepare for it, the effects will be extremely severe.  Depletion is also affecting natural gas, the burning of which generates much of our electricity, and will eventually limit coal and uranium supplies. 

  • System changes necessary. While it is important to improve efficiency of individual cars and houses, the returns will be even greater from modifying infrastructure systems:   concentrating development around existing urban areas and mass transit lines, avoiding the construction of sprawling suburbs, and  localizing manufacturing and agriculture. [7] 

  • Changing behavior. Climate change effects are often indirect and may become more evident later, long past when major changes should have taken place. Volatility in energy prices or supply disruptions will be evident sooner, can take place at any time, and is more likely to inspire immediate behavior change. 

  • Good electricity investments. For electricity, invest in energy sources that are sustainable over the long term and have a positive return on energy investment, including capital, social and environmental costs.  Poorly chosen investments could waste billions of dollars and cause trillions of dollars in climate change destruction. [8]

  • Poor electricity investments. Investing in coal, oil shale or tar sands will give us a few years of electricity but will speed up global warming with catastrophic results.  We can’t afford the number of nuclear reactors needed to replace fossil fuel-generated electricity, and that’s not counting additional costs in terms of tax subsidies, terrorism risks, social and environmental costs, and wastes that will be lethal for thousands of years.

  • System security. Centralized systems are vulnerable to disruption.  Distributed, decentralized systems are resilient and secure.

  • New Manhattan Project. With WWII-scale investment and R&D efforts, we can make clean energy cheap, while restoring US manufacturing, creating millions of jobs, increasing national security and breaking our dependence on oil. [9]

  • Leveraging markets. This transition requires legislation, incentives and taxes that leverage the financial power of markets. Technologies and power sources that are not immediately cost-competitive with oil are not getting the investments they need to grow quickly, while nuclear and fossil fuel energy still enjoy vast Federal handouts in the form of subsidies. [10] A likely component of future bills is a carbon tax.  Supporters include Rep. John Dingell (D-Michigan) and Mayor Bloomberg. [11] 

  • Necessary action. Scaling up renewable power and building energy efficient communities will require massive political, financial and public support over decades. Pragmatic responses may be unpopular. President Carter responded to the oil shocks of the 1970s by starting the strategic petroleum reserve, incubating solar power industries, promoting efficiency standards for cars, encouraging energy conservation and efficiency, and pledging to stop the growth of oil imports.  Many initiatives were reversed in the 1980s. [12]

3. Thinking much bigger

National Economic Stimulus Package. A growing list of organizations call for economic stimulus measures that build short- and long-term economic stability through clean energy and employment opportunities for hundreds of thousands of poor and working class Americans. [13]

The Oil Depletion Protocol. The Oil Depletion Protocol would enable nations to cooperatively reduce their oil dependence in an orderly manner.  It was proposed by Dr. Colin Campbell, a prominent petroleum geologist who founded the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO) in 1996.  Signatory nations would agree to reduce oil imports and exports by a specified amount each year, about 2.6%.  Oil importing nations would agree to reduce their imports by an agreed-upon yearly percentage, referred to as the World Oil Depletion Rate, while oil-producing nations would agree to reduce their rate of production by their National Depletion Rate.  This formula will produce, in effect, a global rationing system. [14]

The One Sky campaign. Affiliated with writer Bill McKibben and the Step It Up movement, One Sky leaves out the details but sets the bar high: [15]

  • creating 5 million green jobs

  • conserving 20% of our energy by 2015

  • freezing climate pollution now

  • cutting climate pollution 30% by 2020

  • cutting climate pollution by at least 80% by 2050

  • siting no new coal plants until they can safely dispose of carbon dioxide emissions

Energize America 2020: a new Manhattan Project. Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R-Maryland), a conservative Republican and former research scientist, calls for a national effort to reduce energy dependence, an effort equivalent to the Manhattan Project of World War II. [16] To date, the proposal that best outlines what is needed is Energize America 2020, a suite of proposed Federal acts collaboratively built by thousands of experts and citizen activists at the Daily Kos website, an online political community with roughly 500,000 daily visitors.  [17] The plan’s 20 proposed Federal acts aspire by 2020 to:

  • provide the US with energy security

  • reduce oil imports and greenhouse gas emissions by 50%

  • generate 25% of US electricity from renewable sources

  • create 2 million new energy-related jobs

  • save 1 million auto jobs

The plan addresses:

  • passenger vehicle fuel efficiency

  • transportation industry efficiency

  • vehicle fleet conversion

  • restoration of passenger rail

  • wind energy production tax credits

  • solar roofs

  • home energy efficiency

  • renewable portfolio standards

  • net metering

National and international context. 

We must jump-start a global transition, says climate change author Ross Gelbspan, by transferring carbon-free energy technology to poor countries.  The expected funding of about $300 billion a year for a decade is expensive, but quite pragmatic. The costs of developing countries accelerating their fossil fuel use or falling into chaos will be even higher. [18] 

We need to think big.  Clearly, massive public pressure will be needed to push government officials into implementing programs like these.  As Al Gore says, political will is a renewable resource. [19] Take a closer look at climate change and fuel depletion in the following appendices.  Then, consider how you can get involved.   Citizens can contact their elected representatives, and take action within their business and community.  Government officials can form or join an energy volatility task force, and implement proposals set out in this report.



1. “Bush energy plan whacks conservation,” Christian Science Monitor, May 31, 2006,; “Secrets of Cheney’s Energy Task Force Come to Light,” Project Censored,; Report of the National Energy Policy Development Group,” Office of the President,; "Energy Task Force," Halliburton Watch,; “Senators to push for $100 gas rebate checks,” CNN, April 27, 2006,; “Oil and Gas: Long Term Contribution Trends,” 2006, Center for Responsive Politics, 2006,


2. "US research and development investments in different types of energy compared to the cost of the war in Iraq," graph data source:US Dept. of Energy,,

3. “Energy & Environment Best Practices,” US Council of Mayors, May 2006,;"Democratic Energy – Renewable Portfolio Standards,” The New Rules Project,; Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative,; ICLEI USA,;;

4. “Global warming legislation in the 110th Congress,” World Resources Institute, Dec. 2007,; “Solving Global Warming: Your Guide to Legislation,” Natural Resources Defense Council, March 2007, ; "Global warming and energy: Sierra Club Energy Policy,” Sierra Club, 

5. “Plan B.3: Mobilizing to Save Civilization,” EPI,


6. “Unified Green Field Theory,” Dave Roberts, TomPaine.commonsense, Jan. 11, 2007,

7. Post Carbon Institute,

8. “World Energy Modeling,” Dick Lawrence, ASPO-USA Conference, Oct. 2006,

9. Breakthrough Institute,

10. “Making Nuclear Pass the Market Test,” August 2007, Earth Track,; 
“Nuclear power in the U.S.: still not viable without subsidies,” Earth Track, 2005, 


11. Carbon Tax Center,; “Dingell opens the door with a hybrid carbon tax,” Sept. 26, 2007;; "Bloomberg calls for tax on carbon emissions," NY Times, Nov. 2, 2007,; “Fuel Tax Magic,” June 24, 2006, Gristmill,

12. “Carter Tried to Stop Bush’s Energy Disasters – 28 Years Ago,” Thom Hartman, Common Dreams, May 3, 2005,


13. "Letter to President Bush, Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid," 1Sky, Jan. 21, 2008, 

14. Richard Heinberg, The Oil Depletion Protocol, New Society Publishers, 2006,


15. 1Sky,; Step It Up,

16. "Peak oil is coming and we must prepare," Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, Legal Times, June 12, 2006,; "Energy," Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, US House of Representatives,

17. Energize America, 

18. “Beyond the point of no return,” Ross Gelbspan,  Gristmill, Dec. 11, 2007,


19. “Political will is a renewable resource,” Sierra Club, 2005,


bottom of page