U.S. Energy Policy Needs to Set Goals Without Meddling

By Christine Todd Whitman
The Wall Street Jounrnal
September 30, 2014

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: Our government should finally pass an energy policy that sets the goal of having a clean and green environment, but policy makers should not try to pick the specific strategies for accomplishing that goal. Such a policy should advocate for a clean, green, reliable and affordable energy mix, and then let the marketplace figure out what are the most economically viable options within the existing alternatives.

The emphasis has to be on the “mix” because there’s no one form of energy that will meet all of our needs. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that our country’s electricity demand will increase 28% by 2040. There is no single solution; we need all clean sources, including wind, solar, natural gas and nuclear energy.

Governments can set priorities and goals, but they distort markets and ultimately stop problems from being solved when they meddle in picking the best solutions or companies—those are best left to consumers to decide. Government’s role should be to set priorities and also to inform about the facts so that consumers can make informed decisions that align with our policy aims.

Often consumers automatically assume efficient energy alternatives will be too expensive, but when they actually examine the alternatives, they can generally find affordable options. Those alternatives should only increase in affordability and availability if a proper national energy policy was in place.

This type of policy should be one that both Republicans and Democrats can get behind. Let’s not forget that a Republican president, Richard Nixon, and a Democratic Congress created much of our landmark environmental legislation, including the Clean Air Act and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. It is my hope that we might see that type of bipartisan cooperation again in establishing the goal of a clean, green, reliable and affordable energy mix.

Christine Todd Whitman was governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001 and administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from 2001 to 2003. She is currently president of Whitman Strategy Group, a consulting firm that specializes in helping companies find solutions to environmental challenges.