America needs a new energy policy to reduce its reliance on foreign oil, but the $26-billion measure that stalled in Congress last November clearly wasn't it. The bill was bloated with $17 billion in tax breaks intended to spur production of oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear power. Although the act would have also funded efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions--such as the Clean Coal Power Initiative--its strategy was wasteful and wrongheaded. The energy bill would have spent billions of taxpayer dollars on the development of unproven technologies that may never be adopted by the private sector.
Rather than resurrecting the failed 2003 bill this year, Congress should start afresh with a law focused on energy conservation. The energy saved through efficiency measures since the 1970s has been far greater than that produced by any new oil field or coal mine. As those measures came into effect between 1979 and 1986, the U.S. gross domestic product rose 20 percent while total energy use dropped 5 percent. Last year's energy bill would have set new efficiency standards for several products (traffic signals, for instance) and provided tax incentives for energy-efficient buildings and appliances, but the government can do much more.
This article was originally published with the title A Waste of Energy.