Friday, September 30, 2005

Undone (The Sweater Song)

Here's an interesting reminder from Alternet about how President Jimmy Carter faced many of the same energy crisis hurdles that our current President is now dealing with. Guess which President was more aggressive at trying to create a more comprehensive solution.

The image of George Bush asking Americans to save oil by driving less brings to mind another image, that of Jimmy Carter wearing a cardigan sweater and asking Americans to save oil by turning down our thermostats.

Carter delivered his speech in February 1977. In July 1979, he gave another energy address that came to be called the "malaise" speech because he seemed to be blaming our unwillingness to stem the rising tide of oil imports on a national melancholy. Both speeches, most observers believe, contributed to Ronald Reagan's decisive victory in 1980.
President Carter was indeed asking for individual sacrifice; but as a small part of an aggressive, national campaign. President Bush is asking for individual sacrifice instead of an aggressive campaign.

By the time Jimmy Carter gave his first energy speech, the Democratic Congress had already (under Gerald Ford) imposed fuel efficiency standards on cars. That law single-handedly doubled the fuel efficiency of new cars from 1975 to 1987. In 1978, Carter and a Democratic Congress enacted five individual energy laws that launched the commercialization of alternative transportation fuels and renewable electricity sources. And they imposed efficiency standards on an array of major appliances.

In 1980, Carter and the Democratic Senate and House passed energy legislation that contained a credible and coherent strategy for reducing our dependence on imported oil.
He observed that while all Americans were suffering from higher energy prices, some of us were suffering much more. "Our nation must be fair to the poorest among us, so we will increase aid to needy Americans to cope with rising energy prices...."

Carter recognized this effort would be costly. To pay for it he proposed a windfall profits tax on the enormous profits oil companies were making because of OPEC-inspired rises in oil prices: "Congress must enact the windfall profits tax without delay. It will be money well spent. Unlike the billions of dollars that we ship to foreign countries to pay for foreign oil, these funds will be paid by Americans to Americans."
Fast forward to 2005. The price of oil again doubles. As a result of hurricanes we again have long lines at gas stations. The Republican-controlled Congress passes an energy bill. But unlike the energy legislation of the late 1970s, this one does not target imported oil. Indeed, the major difference of opinion between the Republican Senate and the Republican House is that the former wanted to include in the bill a goal, not of reducing our dependence on imported oil, but of slightly reducing the rate at which that dependence would increase. The House refused to even mention in the energy bill that a reduction in our use of oil might be a good thing. The House won.

In 2002, California enacted legislation that would require new cars sold in that state to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The Bush administration has joined with the car companies in trying to overturn that law. Their argument? To achieve greenhouse gas reductions, car companies will have to raise the fuel efficiency of their cars. And only the federal government has the authority over vehicle fuel efficiency. The Republicans' argument is that even when the federal government refuses to do anything to reduce our consumption of gasoline, the state governments cannot step in.


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