Energy Policy: Historical Overview, Conceptual Framework, and Continuing Issues [Updated December 21, 2004]   [open pdf - 70KB]

"The persistent attention being given to energy policy has its roots in an unexpected jump in oil prices that began in the late spring of 1999, following a production cut by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). This supply change affecting fuel prices was the fourth significant episode since 1973 to jog American awareness of the extent to which the U.S. economy and lifestyle depends on inexpensive and plentiful energy. When the United States experiences a period marked by sharp increases in the price for energy and concern about the adequacy of essential supplies, there is widespread concern that the nation has no energy policy. The nation has, in fact, adopted several distinct policy approaches over the years, many of the debates turning around the question of the appropriate extent of the federal government's role in energy. Traditionally, the energy debate has been the most vigorous over the balance to be struck between increasing supply and encouraging conservation. However, when markets are unstable, debate turns on another axis as well, that of short-term versus long-term policies. There are other alternatives. For example, tax policy can affect energy price directly to the extent that excise taxes on fuel products can be raised or lowered. Programs such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) can provide direct assistance to families whose quality of life is especially burdened by high energy prices. Lastly, Congress always has the option to require study and analysis of a problem before settling on a policy course. Energy policy issues of continuing interest include whether or not to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for leasing; settlement upon a pipeline route to allow production of Alaskan natural gas; access to public lands for energy exploration and development; restructuring of the electric utility industry to encourage competition and consumer choice; raising corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for motor vehicles; seeking effective means to promote energy conservation using currently available technologies; and development of new technologies and alternative fuels."

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CRS Report for Congress, RL31720
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