US needs election before new round of energy legislation

The US needs an election before the next round of energy legislation. Congress, with its consumption mandates and production subsidies, has done enough damage already.

Alas, Senate Democrats are reported to be meeting with the aim of taking up an energy bill next year.

According to the New York securities firm Bradley Woods & Co., leaders of important Senate committees have been discussing an energy project of this type.

That the effort would have to be bipartisan is comforting. Democrats don’t control enough seats to end a filibuster.

And one idea thought to be under discussion is harmless: incentives to increase the energy efficiency of buildings and manufacturing.

Another idea, though, is more troublesome: A clean-energy standard specifying the amounts of low-carbon energy utilities must use in the generation of electricity. Congress still doesn’t appreciate how much economic havoc it creates with consumption mandates.

In an election year, anything can happen. Purrs about bipartisanship now will become growls of political predation as November comes into view.

Fiscal stresses elevate the risk. If lawmakers start talking about energy, tax mechanisms like expensing of intangible drilling costs and the foreign tax credit will come under threat yet again.

Populism is thick in the political atmosphere. Oil and gas companies are popular villains.

Sponsors of subsidized energy such as ethanol, wind, and solar always want more money. Taxing fossil energy to pay for energy follies can appear sensible to the unenlightened.

Neither the industry nor the country needs another round of deal-making and difference-splitting over bad ideas like these.

On energy, the US has turned toward centralized decision-making. The consequent costs are high, the benefits low.

In the fever of an election year, the US can’t legislate itself away from the energy problems it has created. It needs a hard course correction back toward market freedom and individual choice. It must choose between fundamental values in conflict.

For that it needs an election, until which Congress should pretend the subject doesn’t exist.

(Online Dec. 16, 2011; author’s e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

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