Time for New Energy Policy
by Sarah Eckel

Energy policy is never simple, and in the US it reflects the profit-driven interests of Big Oil and Gas. If we are to refocus our energy development to renewable energy then we must change the policy, because policy drives investments.

Energy policy rewards fossil fuels

It’s no secret that we are overly dependent upon foreign fossil fuels. Interest in developing domestic sources of fuel has shaped the direction of the US energy policy. Following passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, tax breaks, subsidies and exemptions for oil and gas companies reached new heights, giving these companies increased exemptions from federal environmental regulations like Superfund, the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Energy Policy Act of 2005’s subsidies and tax breaks were directed to reducing carbon emissions, however the choice for that policy was to direct the majority of public subsidies to nuclear power and “clean-coal” technology with a token nod to renewable energy. In addition, efforts to end oil and gas subsidies in 2007 were eventually stripped out of the final energy bill. How energy is developed in the US remains guided by a reliance on fossil fuels because we continue to reward those technologies. The Obama Administration has made significant investments in renewable energy, smart grid technology, and energy efficiency, especially compared to the previous Administration. Unfortunately, Obama’s Administration is still giving the lion’s share of benefits to conventional energy production.

In 2009, New York State revisited its Energy Plan. It took a good step in the right direction, valuing the benefits of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Unfortunately, it also continued to place too much value on the use of fossil fuels, including natural gas.  However the primary shortcoming with New York’s Energy Plan is not its continued dependence on fossil fuels, but that it is not enforceable and is only a guidance document for state agencies.

Hope for the future

Moving our state and country away from fossil fuels will take much more than guidance documents and token investments in renewable energy. Currently in the US House and Senate is a bill that would reverse the Safe Drinking Water Act exemptions currently given to the gas companies, called the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (FRAC Act). It is important to start removing the exemptions given to oil and gas companies and hold them accountable. Here in New York a laundry list of bills exists that only deal with hydraulic fracturing. In the end, however, we must move away from fossil fuels. Pushing for a strong investment in a sustainable energy future will require citizens demanding that government reward and invest in renewable energy technology. We must increase the call to our elected officials that energy policies focus on energy technology that does not pollute.

Sarah Eckel works for Citizens Campaign for the Environment as the Policy Analyst. CCE is a grassroots advocacy organization that empowers communities and advocates solutions that protect public health and the natural environment. Contact Sarah at seckel@citizenscampaign.org.