Author:Victor, David G.
Position:SYMPOSIUM: Creating a Legal Framework for Sustainable Energy

Over the last few decades the United States and other large energy consumers have been steadily digging themselves into a twin of energy crises.

Dependence on oil has grown, and with that has come dependence on oil producers. (1) Dependence on fossil fuels has also multiplied, and with that has come emissions of carbon dioxide (C[O.sup.2]), the leading human cause of global climate change. (2)

Until a few years ago, the American public has not paid much attention to these crises. It has put a priority, instead, on other subjects such as the economy and terrorism. But that is changing quickly. Mass public concern about dependence on oil, still fickle, is rising mainly due to the run-up in oil prices, which have doubled in the last year alone. Mass public concern about global warming was on the rise until September 11th put the issue in the background; it is rebounding again, partly due to mounting evidence of serious dangers in climate change and partly due to well-orchestrated campaigns to draw attention to the issue. In other countries, public and expert concern has followed different patterns, but it is now clear that leadership in much of the world economy is focused on what should be done. Indeed, governments across the industrialized and developing worlds are developing plans to cut consumption of oil and dependence on imported oil. (3) A treaty system to address climate change has been in force since 1994; the Kyoto Protocol took full effect on January 1, 2008; negotiations on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol are under way.

The papers in this issue of SLPR focus on the American response to the twin energy crises. They address, broadly, four themes. First, what should be the American strategy? Second, how should the U.S. engage with the rest of the world? Third, which policies will affect innovation and deployment of new technologies, for it is technological change that is the real solution to most energy problems. And fourth, what will be the future for coal, the world's most abundant yet most polluting fossil fuel? These are pivotal questions, and this issue of SLPR neatly frames the issues.

The question of strategy is a difficult one. As Antoine Halff reminds us, the United States has a long history of announcing bold and unachievable goals for "energy independence." President Nixon outlined a goal of independence by 1980; Carter had similar goals, though stretched the milestone of independence a bit further into the future to reflect the reality that the nation had not made much progress toward that end point. Many politicians today also espouse independence as an aim. Representative Cliff Steams echoes the worry that the nation is "addicted" to imported oil and catalogs the array of good reasons to reduce the nation's dependence.

First and foremost is the question of strategy. Energy strategy, like many issues on the policy agenda, suffers from the fact that it is easy to outline the dangers of our current course but hard to build viable and effective coalitions for change. Periodically, the nation adopts "comprehensive" energy legislation, such as the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and a recent update in 2007. (4) But there is rarely anything "comprehensive" about US energy laws. Rather, they reflect the reality of politics--they mirror the interests of the political coalitions that are best organized and most able to advance their cause. (5) In energy policy, the coalitions that has been most successful are those that back renewable energy-in particular, ethanol and other biofuels.

In his contribution to this special issue, Robert Hahn documents the history of ethanol policy policies. Looking at the bare facts, Hahn echoes the observation that current ethanol policy does not make much sense. (6) The present enthusiasm for ethanol won't do much to improve energy security; it has a heavy footprint on the ecology; and it has essentially no benefit in reducing global warming. (7)

Americans rely mainly on corn for their ethanol not because corn...

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