The Origins of the Bush Energy Policy

The basic tenets of the Bush energy policy, which emphasizes increased production rather than reduced consumption, were formed early in the president’s first term, when Bush tapped Vice-President Dick Cheney, the former CEO of the Halliburton Company, a major oil-field services firm, to lead the newly formed National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG). The group’s goal was to examine every aspect of the nation’s energy situation. In its May 17, 2001 report, commonly called the Cheney Report, the NEPDG warned that “America 20 years from now will import nearly two of every three barrels of oil—a condition of increased dependency on foreign powers that do not always have American’s interest at heart.”

The Sierra Club, a liberal environmental group, and Judicial Watch, a conservative legal organization, jointly filed a suit, contending that gas and oil industry officials were so deeply involved in policy making that they became de facto members of Mr. Cheney’s panel, and therefore that their identities were subject to disclosure under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. On May 10, 2005, a federal appeals court said that Cheney was not obligated to disclose whom he consulted with on energy matters.

Increase Consumption over Conservation

The Cheney report calls for a new set of energy principles:

  • Innovation to make the United States a world leader in efficiency and conservation
  • Investment in research and development into energy-saving technology
  • Requirements for manufacturers to build more energy-efficient appliances

But the principles do not match the prescribed practices of consumption over conservation. In fact, the first seven chapters focus on removing regulatory bars to greater domestic exploitation of domestic oil, gas, and coal deposits, and greater reliance on nuclear power. The proposal also promotes oil drilling in the pristine wilderness of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The eighth chapter of the report is entitled “Strengthening Global Alliances.” In this chapter, the Cheney Report:

  • Asks the president to “make energy security a priority of our trade and foreign policy.”
  • Envisions a close working relationship between the federal government and American oil giants
  • Calls for increasing imports from Persian Gulf producers, particularly Saudi Arabia

In fact, the NEPDG report asks the president and other U.S. officials to “support initiatives by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Algeria, Qatar, the UAE, and other suppliers to open up area of their energy sectors to foreign investment.”

George W. Bush does not specifically link energy policy to the military dimension of protecting overseas oil fields, pipelines, refineries, and tanker routes. However, Central Command (Centcom) Commander General Tommy Franks acknowledged the need to protect U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf, where he explained, “sixty-eight percent of the world’s proven oil resources are found, and forty-three percent of the world’s petroleum exports pass through the Strait of Hormuz.”

Bi-Partisan Reluctance to Take Necessary Steps

Bush is not the first president to acknowledge the importance of energy independence—but fail to take necessary but potentially unpopular steps to solve it. In 1977, President Carter said, "We simply must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources. By acting now, we can control our future instead of letting the future control us…If we wait, we could endanger our freedom as a sovereign nation to act in foreign affairs."

Fast forward to late April 2005 when Bush similarly declared, "The fundamental problem is this: Our supply of energy is not growing fast enough to meet the demands of our growing economy…A growing economy causes us to consume more energy. And, yet, we’re not producing energy here at home, which means we’re reliant upon foreign nations."

Raising gas taxes or increasing corporate fuel economy standards could have a dramatic and immediate effect on fuel consumption, but five successive presidents have failed to take action on this front. As New York Time columnist Tom Friedman said: “By doing nothing to lower U.S. oil consumption, we are financing both sides in the war on terrorism and strengthening the worst governments in the world. That is, we are financing the U.S. military with our tax dollars and we are financing the jihadists—and the Saudi, Sudanese and Iranian mosques and charities that support them—through our gasoline purchases.”

How many more presidents (of any party) will talk the talk on energy policy, but fail to take action?