Energy and politics: the U.S. and Canada.

Author:Kranc, Joel

Energy and politics make interesting bedfellows. When the domestic economy is running relatively smoothly and employment figures are at an acceptable level, the price of energy is overlooked. As a result it often ends up on the back burner of political discourse.

In tough times, however, energy policy and the price at the pumps become part of the national debate.

In the United States, attaining energy independence from unfriendly foreign sources is a key goal, said President Barack Obama in March 2012: "We can't have an energy strategy for the last century that traps us in the past. We need an energy strategy for the future--an all-of-the-above strategy for the 21st century that develops every source of American-made energy."

And yet, sources such as the International Energy Agency, say the U.S. is on track to become the world's largest oil producer by 2020 and energy independent 10 years later. But the way to independence is not without controversy.

Take fracking away, Dan Kish, senior vice president of policy for the Institute for Energy Research is reported as saying, "the oil and gas production drops. They [policymakers] also always seek to drive up the costs of activities so as to make them uneconomic, and there is no shortage of levers they use for that. Since the myth of energy scarcity is their justification for federal programs ... this doesn't fit the agenda. They will fight it by trying to scare people."

In Canada, the policy debate has less to do with energy independence and more to do with foreign ownership and how best to distribute the natural resources it already has elsewhere--realizing that the U.S is its largest trading partner. Canada's policies reflect, perhaps, a broader global perspective.

So how do the two nations view their energy policies and what factors temper the debate on either side of the border? Is there a common ground?


In the U.S., policy has evolved over the last four decades. "Energy policy and politics, for many years, was a regional issue in the U.S., in terms of roll call voting in the House of Representatives and the Senate," says Robert Stavins, Albert Pratt professor of Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, who further notes that the regional voting pattern of lawmakers goes as far back as the 1960s and continued up to the late 1990s. "Those regional lines were sometimes coal states versus non-coal states or urban versus rural," he says.


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