Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Why Stalling on the Energy Bill Is a Bad Idea

The energy bill that Congress is working on is starting to look like a big mess. The reason for this is innocent enough: many in Congress are worried that the U.S. economy isn’t strong enough for the big push needed for energy independence. As it stands now, the bill would actually weaken existing rules and postpone most of the hard engineering work in energy until after the economy recovers.

The problem with that is that energy independence is not just a nice idea that the United States wants to work on someday, like a permanent base on Mars, or curing the common cold. The high cost of imported energy, and the resulting trade deficits, are the cause of the recession. Oh, I know people like to talk about the financial system melting down, but the recession didn’t actually start until oil prices hit record highs. And the recession will not be over until we have a new energy strategy in place.

Imagine if the recession ended today and the economy started to expand. By September world oil prices would be back over $100. And then, wham — recession all over again. But really, what this means is that we can’t have a real recovery until the energy problems are partly solved — and we won’t experience strong economic growth until the energy problems are mostly solved. The good news is, these are problems we pretty much know how to solve. It’s basically just a lot of engineering and manufacturing work. What’s more, this is the perfect time to do it, with half a million engineers and millions of factory workers sitting idle. The bad news is, Congress is seriously thinking about putting off most of work on energy till later — and postponing the economic recovery for maybe three or four years.

I think Congress is likely to get the message that the economy, and the work that’s needed on energy to get the economy going, can’t wait for three or four years. There are a number of petitions going around on the energy bill, including one from MoveOn.org Political Action. Congress needs to put together a good energy bill because energy independence can’t wait.