Spring 2012

Energy Policy: Past or Prologue?

Michael J. Graetz

The United States was remarkably complacent about energy policy until the Arab oil embargo of 1973. Since then, we have relied on unnecessarily costly regulations and poorly designed subsidies to mandate or encourage particular forms of energy production and use. Our presidents have quested after an elusive technological “silver bullet.” Congress has elevated parochial interests and short-term political advantages over national needs. Despite the thousands of pages of energy legislation enacted over the past four decades, Congress has never demanded that Americans pay a price that reflects the full costs of the energy they consume. Given our nation's economic fragility, our difficult fiscal situation, and the daunting challenges of achieving energy security and limiting climate change, we can no longer afford second- and third-best policies. This essay discusses the failures of the past and how we might avoid repeating them.

MICHAEL J. GRAETZ, a Fellow of the American Academy since 2004, is Professor of Law at Columbia University and Professor Emeritus at Yale Law School. His most recent book, on which this essay is based, is The End of Energy: The Unmaking of America's Environment, Security, and Independence (2011). His other publications include 100 Million Unnecessary Returns: A Simple, Fair, and Competitive Tax Plan for the United States (2008) and Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Fight over Taxing Inherited Wealth (2005).

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