An Energy Grand Bargain: Something to Consider?

In recent years the term ‘Grand Bargain’ has been used to refer to the possibility of a budget deal on Capitol Hill between Republicans and Democrats. In an earlier context I used the term, on a limited private basis, to refer to a potential deal on energy policy between Republicans and Democrats following George Bush’s election as President in 2000.

Grand Bargain

The thought of a ‘grand bargain’ on energy policy suggested itself to me as soon as it became clear that Republicans would be declared the winners of the 2000 presidential election. Having listened carefully to the energy statements by both sides during the election campaign I expected strong White House support for fossil fuels and nuclear but little support for renewables. My only hope was that President Bush would be sympathetic to wind energy as he seemed to be as the Governor of Texas. This turned out to be a forlon hope as energy policy in the Bush Administration appears to have been under the thumb of Vice President Cheney.

The idea of the ‘grand bargain’ was simple: with the Bush Administration unlikely to provide strong support for renewables, and a Democrat-controlled Congress unlikely to support oil drilling in ANWAR (Alaska National Wildlfe Refuge), the deal would have been to trade enhanced and increasing support for renewables for carefully regulated drilling in ANWAR using modern oil drilling techniques. Federal revenue from ANWAR could help support the increasing support for renewables.

I was willing to consider this kind of tradeoff in light of improved oil drilling techniques in recent years and the possibility of limiting the oil drilling footprint in a national outdoor treasure. Most importantly to me it was the only way I could see to get increasing Congressional funding for progress toward a critically needed and inevitable renewable energy future in the next four or eight years under a Republican Administration.

Well, it didn’t happen and strong support for renewables only began under President Obama and still has a long way to go. The U.S. still lacks an energy policy that would create significant incentives for development and investment in renewables, while legacy incentives still provide large public support for mature fossil and nuclear energy. As a result the U.S. is falling behind other countries in manufacturing, marketing, and deploying renewables – e.g., offshore wind. The U.S. Is also not benefitting as much as it could from the associated job creation and other economic benefits. It will take a less obstructionist and forward-looking Congress to change this situation.