By Tom Armistead

ENERGY POLICY WAS A MAJOR ISSUE in the 2012 election, with President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney tussling over regulation of carbon emissions, oil and gas development, the stalled Keystone XL pipeline, support for renewable energy and green jobs. The president’s re-election now appears to have provided some needed clarity to questions about the direction national energy policy might take. Both the president and his opponent asserted that the 2012 election presented Americans with the clearest possible choice between two different philosophies of government, and the Democrats emerged the winners. But the election results also raised caution flags.

On one hand, the president’s modest three-point margin of victory and his party’s incremental gains in both houses of Congress breathed new life into the call for action to counter global climate change and for a future increasingly fueled by renewable energy and low-emission technologies. On the other, the continued Republican control in the House of Representatives signaled a desire for caution in making the changes, while a slight reduction in Tea Party representation expressed a desire for greater flexibility and compromise.

After dealing with the immediate, lowering threat posed by the nation’s daunting fiscal crisis, the president and Congress will have to determine the nature and outlines of an energy policy, and that will be no easy task. The United States doesn’t have an energy policy, said Robert Rosner, co-director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, only an inconsistent collection of policies, developed in response to the politics of the moment. They promote both renewable energy and fossil fuels, without emphasis on either one or direction for the long term. That doesn’t bother Ken Green, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. The country doesn’t need an energy policy, he said; market forces should dictate which energy sources are developed. And as for a carbon-emissions policy, climate change is a real issue, but only a modest threat, he said. He sees no benefit for the United States in adopting a climate-change policy…

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