Energy Policy: Election Year Issues and Legislative Proposals [September 24, 2012]   [open pdf - 219KB]

"U.S. energy policy since the Arab oil embargo in the 1970s has been aimed at a long-term goal with three major dimensions: to assure a secure supply of energy, to keep energy costs low enough to meet the needs of a growing economy, and to protect the environment while producing and consuming that energy. A continuing theme during this period has been that dependence on imported oil for a large share of the U.S. energy mix, particularly in the transportation sector, impedes that aim in all three dimensions, but the importance given to import dependence varies. For some, import dependence is the primary concern; for others, particularly those focused on environmental issues, it is a symptom of a general crisis that arises from indiscriminate consumption of fossil fuels. A particularly controversial aspect of the debate is the issue of global climate change, because burning fossil fuels produces large amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Like the goals of energy policy, the means of achieving them have three dimensions: reducing consumption by increased energy efficiency; increasing domestic production of conventional energy sources, particularly oil; and developing new sources of energy, particularly renewable energy and renewable fuels, that can replace oil and other fossil fuels. Pursuing the goals of energy policy has been complicated by the diversity of energy consumption and supply in the United States. On the consumption side, there are three major sectors: residential/commercial, industrial, and transportation. On the supply side, the primary sources have traditionally been fossil energy: petroleum, natural gas (and 'natural gas liquids' such as propane and butane), and coal. Electricity, which is both an energy source and a consumer of energy, has replaced some fossil fuels: about 75% of the energy consumed by the residential/commercial sector is electricity, and industrial energy consumption is about 35% electricity. But in the transportation sector, petroleum has remained dominant. Only in the past few years has corn-derived ethanol become a significant transportation fuel, replacing close to 10% of gasoline consumption. A diverse spectrum of generating sources is used to produce electricity. Coal for many years supplied half the electricity generated nationally. In recent years its share has declined; it was about 42% in 2011."

Report Number:
CRS Report for Congress, R42756
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