A Free-Market Energy Blog

Obama’s ‘Quadrennial Energy Review’: Old Vinegar in New Bottles (remember Jimmy Carter and FDR)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- January 10, 2014

“The only good national energy strategy is one premised on private property rights, voluntary exchange, and the rule of law. Not a central, government plan, but a decentralized we-the-people ‘plan’.”

Energy studies, energy plans. They are not new. We saw them in 1938, 1977, yesterday—and in years between.

Now, the smartest-guys-in-the-government-room  will, once again, pontificate and propose more regulation and intervention on top of the tens of thousands of pages of directives that have built up in the last 40+ years. (The modern era of U.S. energy regulation began with Nixon’s wage-and-price-control order of August 1971.)

Usually, such studies come out with recommendations, which then turn into legislative proposals for a Congressional debate and a vote before reaching the President’s desk. But with President Obama legislating via Executive Order, expect the worst.

Obama’s Quadrennial Energy Review might be the last gasp of climate alarmism and the green-energy agenda that is now, increasingly,  in intellectual, empirical, and political trouble. As a recent investigative report on 60 Minutes indicated, even the mainstream press is getting Cleantech fatigue.

Despite that, compare what Obama said yesterday with FDR’s call to energy action in his second term and with Jimmy Carter’s National Energy Plan—and let history caution against government energy planning in thought and action.

Obama’s QER (January 9, 2014)

“Affordable, clean, and secure energy and energy services are essential for improving U.S. economic productivity, enhancing our quality of life, protecting our environment, and ensuring our Nation’s security.

Achieving these goals requires a comprehensive and integrated energy strategy resulting from interagency dialogue and active engagement of external stakeholders. To help the Federal Government better meet this responsibility, I am directing the undertaking of a Quadrennial Energy Review.

The initial focus for the Quadrennial Energy Review will be our Nation’s infrastructure for transporting, transmitting, and delivering energy. Our current infrastructure is increasingly challenged by transformations in energy supply, markets, and patterns of end use; issues of aging and capacity; impacts of climate change; and cyber and physical threats.

Any vulnerability in this infrastructure may be exacerbated by the increasing interdependencies of energy systems with water, telecommunications, transportation, and emergency response systems. The first Quadrennial Energy Review Report will serve as a roadmap to help address these challenges.”

Jimmy Carter’s National Energy Plan (April 20, 1977)

“We can have an effective and comprehensive energy policy only if the Government takes responsibility for it and if the people understand the seriousness of the challenge and are willing to make sacrifices…. Only by saving energy can we maintain our standard of living and keep our people working….

The cornerstone of our policy is to reduce demand through conservation. Our emphasis on conservation is a clear difference between this plan and others which merely encouraged crash production efforts. Conservation is the quickest, cheapest, most practical source of energy….

We must conserve the fuels that are scarcest and make the most of those that are more plentiful… We must start now to develop the new, unconventional sources of energy we will rely on in the next century.”

FDR’s Energy Resources Committee (March 15, 1938)

“The need for a comprehensive study of our energy sources, their prudent utilization and conservation, and their competitive relation to each other and to the national economic structure becomes increasingly evident.

I know that much basic material has been gathered by various branches of the Government and that studies of various aspects of this broad subject are continuously being made by these agencies.

However, I believe that the subject is important enough to warrant particular attention with a view to concentrating the available data, and presenting the outlines of a program.

Accordingly, I am requesting the National Resources Committee, in consultation with all other interested agencies of the Government, for example, on water power problems with the Federal Power Commission, on oil and gas problems with the Petroleum Conservation Commission, and on coal problems with the Bituminous Coal Commission, to undertake this task… [1]

There have been many other presidential calls to energy action in addition to those above, such as President George H. W. Bush’s National Energy Strategy, the basis of the Energy Policy Act of 1992.  President Clinton’s executive order creating the President’s Council on Sustainable Development was in this mode. [2] And George W. Bush had his energy plan—or two or three.


The federal government, for nearly a century, has quested for a national energy strategy or even a plan. Outside of World War I, World War II, and the 1970s, when price and allocation controls created energy crises, the U.S. has fortunately relied primarily on market forces.

The new energy planning is piecemeal, cost-inflating, anti-consumption, and anti fossil-fuel, all in the name of “energy sustainability.”

The only good national energy strategy is one premised on private property rights, voluntary exchange, and the rule of law. Not a central, government plan, but a decentralized we-the-people ‘plan’.


[1] Letter from FDR to Harold L. Ickes, Chairman, National Resources Committee. (This letter is not in the Papers of Franklin Roosevelt, but a copy is in my files along with the final report.)

The final Energy Resources Committee report, released January 28, 1939, stated in part:

“Immediate steps on the part of the government toward formulation of a national energy resources policy in the interest of national defense, conservation, and economic betterment are advocated in a report sent to Congress today by President Roosevelt….

It is difficult … to envision a national coal policy or a national petroleum policy or a national water-power policy without also in time a national policy directed toward all these energy producers—that is, a national energy resources policy.

Despite the complexity … the present and proposed regulatory measures … are designed to promote the development of the energy resources industries along lines that will be consistent with the broad national interest.”

[2] On June 29, 1992, Clinton’s executive order read:

There is established the “President’s Council on Sustainable Development” … consist[ing] of … public and private sectors and who represent industrial, environmental, governmental, and not-for-profit organizations with experience relating to matters of sustainable development.

The Council shall advise the President on matters involving sustainable development. “Sustainable development” is broadly defined as economic growth that will benefit present and future generations without detrimentally affecting the resources or biological systems of the planet.

The Council shall develop and recommend to the President a national sustainable development action strategy that will foster economic vitality.


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