It’s rare to hear a former Shell Oil president argue for the abolishment of the internal combustion engine. But John Hofmeister, author of the book, “Why We Hate the Oil Companies” and recent guest lecturer at Georgetown University, is not your typical oil executive. After leaving Shell in 2008, he founded Citizens for Affordable Energy and made it his mission to change the way we think about energy, starting with combating energy misinformation. Like Georgetown Energy, Hofmeister puts a large emphasis on
energy affordability and seeks to bridge the destructive political partisanship surrounding the United States’ energy policy. Despite the oft-repeated mantra of energy independence, the United States has never had an energy plan, not even close. Hofmeister hopes to see this remedied by reforming how we plan our energy future.
When Hofmeister references a recent crop of reports from ExxonMobil, BP and Shell predicting an oil crisis to hit sometime around, oh, 2016, you expect him to add to the growing chorus of gloom-and-doom predictions of global catastrophe. In fact, Hofmeister agrees with the relatively optimistic forecasts of the oil companies, expecting that by 2030 we’ll be entering a brighter era driven by innovation forced upon us by the coming energy crisis. But if true energy independence is inevitable, we shouldn’t need a national crisis to start changing for the better. And what better place to start driving this change than Washington.
The crux of Hofmeister’s position on energy is directly influenced by years of navigating partisan-driven energy policies that are subject to change as frequently as the House majority. Energy policy takes years to plan and execute, but the current system leaves it vulnerable to what Hofmeister calls “the perversity of partisanship”. His position? Remove partisanship from energy policy altogether. As long as campaign finance rules tie the candidates’ platforms to the moneyed interests supplying the cash, we won’t have an energy plan – we’ll have a plan for every elected official in office. As Hofmeister remarked, “The energy agenda of every president is based upon where the money comes from.”
In a fascinating analogy, he reminds us that the United States once suffered from extreme economic fluctuations due to an inability to agree on basic fiscal management. It wasn’t until the Treasury defaulted twice in the early 1900s that the Federal Reserve Act was passed, forever transforming fiscal policy in the United States. By preventing electoral politics and partisan bickering from blocking long-term financial decisions (at least to the greatest extent possible) the Federal Reserve can effectively do what it’s supposed to – plan fiscal policy.
Hofmeister argues we need the same consolidation and separation of authority in order to direct energy policy. He suggests an independent regulatory commission featuring long-term appointees that would span presidents and majority shifts. While a perfect solution in theory, creating such a body is no small feat. Although the goal would be to create an independent body, it must be authorized in the same partisan environment that makes balanced energy policy impossible. It’s hard to imagine anything short of a crisis scenario that would drive Congress and the President to make such a drastic, bipartisan change. Nevertheless, to anyone who is concerned about our energy future, it’s clear a dramatic change is needed.
In our work, we can see how eager citizens are to take control of their energy future. We see it in excitement of residents to install a solar system that will provide them with clean energy for decades to come, giving
them energy and financial independence and the peace of mind that comes from knowing their energy comes from a renewable source. As Hofmeister remarked, energy, like food and water, is more than an economic factor of production, and it requires better policy than that which can be hastily crafted in between reelection campaigns.