Visualizing US Energy Policy

There is a rather antiquated belief that the oil and gas industry drives US energy policy. This is usually framed in people’s minds as a pleading oil and gas lobbyist making sure that the US stays hooked on oil. While this image may be accurate with regards to the US coal industry, which does indeed have heavy influence on Congress and policy, it’s much less the case with oil and gas. And here’s why: The US automobile industry and the US highway construction industry performs all the heavy lifting one could require, to ensure that US primary energy usage stays overweighted to liquid fuel consumption. These two industries dwarf any other influence on US energy policy through their widespread distribution throughout 50 US states, and Congress.

One of the first major acts of our new President and Congress in 2009 was to invest over 100 billion in the auto manufacturing complex, and the highway construction complex. US energy policy, therefore, is not so much about the oil and gas industry or even the coal industry. US energy policy, which is essentially about how we will use energy in the future, is guided most by our transport–not our powergrid–system. It is the height of either irony, or absurdity, therefore that the US climate change movement has incorrectly and repeatedly chosen to focus on the powergrid as the lever to effect carbon reduction. Neither on a primary usage basis nor especially on an emissions basis does the powergrid exceed transport as the problem. The President and Congress, and especially US Governors, remain committed to investing in the Automobile-US Highway Construction complex. Here is President Obama just last month:

So, GM and Chrysler went through painful restructurings: ones that required enormous sacrifices on the part of all involved.  Many believed this was a fool’s errand.  Many feared we would be throwing good money after bad: that taxpayers would lose most of their investment and that these companies would soon fail regardless.  But one year later, the outlook is very different. In fact, the industry is recovering at a pace few thought possible.

Overall energy policy in the US is depicted nicely in the above painting by Hubert Blanz, from his Roadshow series. Although fanciful and exaggerated, there is a helpful truth in the exaggeration: The US  does precisely zero to transition away from automobile and highway transport, and quantifiably, undertakes nothing but token investment in other means of conveyance. Meanwhile, we continue to plan for massive, new investment in our highways. It’s legitimate to be aggrieved that the global, and US, oil and gas industry no doubt spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to restrain regulation over extraction. There’s no argument that this is the case, but this skews more towards environmental policy–not overall energy policy–which governs the most important factor of all: demand. Your President, your Congress, and your Governors are doing everything they possibly can to make sure that the demand for oil here in the US, and dependency on oil here in the US, rolls onward.

-Gregor

  • Ken

    Keep up the excellent commentary – I look forward to your insightful comments.

  • tbird2252

    Gregor, Hope you delve into this issue further…What event will eventually sway the current sentiment to change direction; The BP Gulf debacle; or will it be another extraneous event no one has even contemplated???

    Excellent post!

  • http://www.postlinearity.com gregorylent

    cars and stripes forever … the cult of individuality has some downsides, eh?

  • http://lewterrorboy.blogspot.com/ lowery Lowrey

    Bravo! You've hit the proverbial nail on the wellhead.

    All it took me to come to the same conclusion years ago, was a perusal of the IEA's pub, 2000 edition of the World Energy Outlook to ascertain that it wasn't the electrical grid, but the transportation infrastructure and its intractable nature that were the crux of not only CO2 emissions, but the inexorable rise of oil consumption.

    You are spot-on. (So of course, will be totally ignored).

  • Kinuachdrach

    So the demand comes from evil road-builders and automobile companies? Grow up, please, Gregor!

    The demand comes from Gregor, and Gregor's relatives, & Gregor's buddies, and from all the rest of us. We (you) are not sitting around longing for the day when we can hitch up our horse again — and devote 1/3 of cropland to growing horse feed. And except for the lunatic fringe, we know that titanium-framed bicycles with synthetic rubber tires do not grow in a greenie's window box.

    Transportation is inseparable from quality of life. Today, liquid hydrocarbon fuels are by far the best way the human race knows of providing economic transportation. None of the so-called renewable fuels (“Subsidy Sluts”) comes close. Those are facts. We have to start there.

    Unfortunately, fossil fuels are finite. We need a replacement. That replacement has to be better, cheaper, more convenient — which rules out all the Subsidy Sluts. We are not going to get the needed huge-scale replacement through hypocritical greenies whining about other people's behavior (while themselves aspiring to Al Gore's expansive lifestyle). We are not going to get there through ignorant politicians mandating things which are inconsistent with the laws of physics. The only way we are going to get there is through technology. We need to promote the development of technology.

  • Kinuachdrach

    So the demand comes from evil road-builders and automobile companies? Grow up, please, Gregor!

    The demand comes from Gregor, and Gregor's relatives, & Gregor's buddies, and from all the rest of us. We (you) are not sitting around longing for the day when we can hitch up our horse again — and devote 1/3 of cropland to growing horse feed. And except for the lunatic fringe, we know that titanium-framed bicycles with synthetic rubber tires do not grow in a greenie's window box.

    Transportation is inseparable from quality of life. Today, liquid hydrocarbon fuels are by far the best way the human race knows of providing economic transportation. None of the so-called renewable fuels (“Subsidy Sluts”) comes close. Those are facts. We have to start there.

    Unfortunately, fossil fuels are finite. We need a replacement. That replacement has to be better, cheaper, more convenient — which rules out all the Subsidy Sluts. We are not going to get the needed huge-scale replacement through hypocritical greenies whining about other people's behavior (while themselves aspiring to Al Gore's expansive lifestyle). We are not going to get there through ignorant politicians mandating things which are inconsistent with the laws of physics. The only way we are going to get there is through technology. We need to promote the development of technology.

  • John J

    Energy policy? What energy policy? We have Natural gas in THIS country to last hundreds of years and the US would rather send money to the Middle East rather than putting our own NATURAL RESOURCES to work. How stupid are you? I drove a NGV Honda Civic at work and it was WONDERFUL! Performed like a normal “gasoline” engine. Millions of jobs nation wide could become reality if you use our own Natural gas resources to break the oil addiction.

    The bird and bunny people think Natural gas isn't green enough? Take a look at the Statistics of the honda Civic NGV vehicles. They are CLEAN!

    Sooner or later Iran or some other crack pot in the middle east will pull the trigger and stop the flow of oil, even temporarily and WE THE PEOPLE will feel the effects of oil shortages like in the 1970's. Not using our own natural resources is a crime. Why export natural gas when it is a CLEAN alternative to OIL? My next presidential vote will go to the Candidate that sees the future of natural gas and use it to rebuild our economy and put our country back on the road to prosperity. Mr. Obama, doesn't get it. Bury your head in the sand and make beleive people are going to buy electric cars at 45K a vehicle? Go ahead and think that because it's not going to happen for the average family to purchase these vehicles.

    NGV is a PERFECT bridge fuel and we have it right here in the USA, not Saudi Arabia, Iran, Irag or Venuzuela. Get with the program and use OUR FUEL and Secure OUR Future, create good paying jobs right here in the USA.