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The End of Energy

The End of Energy: The Unmaking of America's Environment, Security, and Independence

Michael J. Graetz
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    The End of Energy
    Book Description:

    Americans take for granted that when we flip a switch the light will go on, when we turn up the thermostat the room will get warm, and when we pull up to the pump gas will be plentiful and relatively cheap. In The End of Energy, Michael Graetz shows us that we have been living an energy delusion for forty years. Until the 1970s, we produced domestically all the oil we needed to run our power plants, heat our homes, and fuel our cars. Since then, we have had to import most of the oil we use, much of it from the Middle East. And we rely on an even dirtier fuel -- coal -- to produce half of our electricity. Graetz describes more than forty years of energy policy incompetence and argues that we must make better decisions for our energy future. Despite thousands of pages of energy legislation since the 1970s (passed by a Congress that tended to elevate narrow parochial interests over our national goals), Americans have never been asked to pay a price that reflects the real cost of the energy they consume. Until Americans face the facts about price, our energy incompetence will continue -- and along with it the unraveling of our environment, security, and independence.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29561-1
    Subjects: Political Science, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Michael J. Graetz
  4. Prologue: The Journey
    (pp. 1-8)

    It remains a basic fact of American life that, despite forty years of political fulminating, global conflict, and ever-increasing environmental awareness, most of us still take energy for granted. We take for granted that when we come home at night and flip on the light switch, the bulb will illuminate. We assume that when we turn up the thermostat, the heat will come on. And however acutely aware we may be of the price per gallon we pay, we take it as something close to a right of citizenship that when we drive an automobile up to one of the...

  5. 1 A ʺNew Economic Policyʺ
    (pp. 9-20)

    If you turned on your television set at 9:00 p.m. on Sunday evening, August 15, 1971, as millions of Americans did every week to follow the travails of the Cartwright family in the enormously popular WesternBonanza, you might have been surprised to see the somber visage of Richard M. Nixon, the thirty-seventh president of the United States. Nixon had come down from the mountaintop—down from Camp David, the presidential retreat nestled in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland—to unveil a dramatic and far-reaching set of economic policy changes. His address, entitled “The Challenge of Peace,” was rather short,...

  6. 2 Losing Control over Oil
    (pp. 21-40)

    If our government and the public at large had been lulled into apathy during the 1950s and 1960s by plentiful oil at cheap and stable prices, the illusion that such conditions would last forever was shattered on October 20, 1973. It was on that day that the Arab oil-producing states declared a total embargo of oil shipments to the United States.

    Soviet-supplied Egypt and Syria had launched surprise Yom Kippur attacks on Israel two weeks earlier. For the next ten days, Israel pleaded with the United States for arms and supplies. The Nixon administration finally responded with a shipment intended...

  7. 3 The Environment Moves Front and Center
    (pp. 41-60)

    It has become commonplace—even though no one fully believes it—to date the emergence of the modern environmental movement from April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day. John Steele Gordon, writing inAmerican Heritagemagazine nearly twenty-five years later, described that day as “one of the most remarkable happenings in the history of democracy.” “Fully 10 percent of the population of the country, twenty million people, demonstrated their support for redeeming the American environment,” Gordon said. “They attended events in every state and nearly every city and county. American politics and public policy would never be the same again.”...

  8. 4 No More Nuclear
    (pp. 61-78)

    At four in the morning of March 28, 1979, unit 2 of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station (TMI-2) shut down. The power plant, located in the middle of the Susquehanna River, stood 10 miles from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the state capital. A valve that controlled the flow of water that cooled the reactor had failed to close, allowing a large amount of water to disappear from the reactor’s cooling system. The turbines that carried the heat away closed down, and the nuclear core began to overheat. More than 100 alarms went off in the control room, yet the operators...

  9. 5 The Changing Face of Coal
    (pp. 79-96)

    In a country still reacting to the 1973 Arab oil embargo, many policymakers regarded coal (along with nuclear power) as the nation’s energy savior. In contrast to price controls on oil, Richard Nixon released all controls on the price of coal in March 1974. The United States was the “Saudi Arabia of coal,” and coal had become, in Gerald Ford’s words, our “ace in the hole.” We had more coal reserves than any other nation in the world—enough to supply power for 300 to 500 years, depending on the estimate. Coal, supposedly aided by developing technology that would make...

  10. 6 Natural Gas and the Ability to Price
    (pp. 97-116)

    It was sunny, but a freezing and blustery 28°F that felt like 13°F with the wind chill on January 20, 1977, as Jimmy Carter, having just been sworn in as president, walked from the capitol toward the White House, holding hands with his wife, Rosalyn, and his daughter, Amy. The bone-chilling cold was not surprising that January afternoon; the winter had been far colder than usual. Three days earlier the temperature in New York’s Central Park had been the lowest—one degree below zero—since weather records began being kept, shortly after the Civil War. And New York City was...

  11. 7 The Quest for Alternatives and to Conserve
    (pp. 117-136)

    May 3, 1978, was a Wednesday and pouring rain, but to Jimmy Carter it was Sun Day. The bare-headed president refused the offer of an umbrella as he laid out his vision of a sun-powered nation at the Solar Energy Research Institute atop South Table Mountain in Golden, Colorado—a town that is sunny about 330 days a year. “We know it works,” Carter said, adding: “Nobody can embargo sunlight. No cartel controls the sun. Its energy will not run out. It will not pollute our air or poison our waters. It is free from stench and smog. The sun’s...

  12. 8 A Crisis of Confidence
    (pp. 137-146)

    All of Jimmy Carter’s efforts to encourage conservation and alternative energy did little to halt the crisis he faced in the summer of 1979. Inflation in the United States was then running at 14 percent. The nation was reeling from gasoline shortages and a wildcat insurrection by truckers frustrated by fuel shortages and high prices. Gas lines and odd–even day rationing had returned to America. Tempers were frayed. On May 31, a young pregnant woman’s husband was shot to death in a New York gas line. America’s truckers were especially aggrieved. In Levittown, Pennsylvania, a truckers’ highway blockade set...

  13. 9 The End of an Era
    (pp. 147-154)

    When it came to energy policy, the differences between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter were stark. They reflected not only their disparate policy preferences, but also their fundamental dispute over the proper role for the federal government. Energy had been the centerpiece of Carter’s domestic presidential agenda. He had pushed to transform our nation’s energy policies more than any president of the twentieth century. In addition to the energy legislation he secured in the first three years of his term, in June 1980 Carter signed six more pieces of legislation known collectively as the Energy Security Act. These laws were...

  14. 10 Climate Change, a Game Changer
    (pp. 155-178)

    On December 10, 2007, former vice president Al Gore stopped briefly on the long red carpet leading up the steps to Oslo’s city hall. He nodded, smiled, then waved to the cheering crowd gathered on the streets circling the building. Gore—who had won the popular vote for the U.S. presidency in 2000 but lost to George W. Bush in the electoral college after a controversial Supreme Court decision halted a recount of votes in Florida—was in Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. He was the second American in a decade to do so, having been preceded five...

  15. 11 Shock to Trance: The Power of Price
    (pp. 179-196)

    On November 17, 2008, the second Sunday after his election, Barack Obama sat down for an interview with Steve Kroft of CBS’s60 Minutes. Here is what was said about energy in that conversation:

    KroftWhen the price of oil was $147 a barrel, there were a lot of spirited and profitable discussions that were held on energy independence; now you’ve got the price of oil under $60.


    KroftDoing something about energy, is it less important now that …?ObamaIt’s more important. It may be a little harder politically, but it’s more important.



  16. 12 The Invisible Hand? Regulation and the Rise of Cap and Trade
    (pp. 197-216)

    Before the 1970s, the federal government played only a bit part in regulating energy policymaking. The most important agencies were state entities, such as the Oklahoma Commerce Commission and the Texas Railroad Commission, which had the power to regulate oil production in their states. Their job was largely to manage abundance. In effect, they limited output so as not to exceed domestic consumption, although there were times when efforts by the states fell short, and the Interior Department had to intervene to prevent supplies from outstripping demand. Nevertheless, federal policy consisted mostly of the FPC’s regulation of interstate natural gas,...

  17. 13 Government for the People? Congress and the Road to Reform
    (pp. 217-248)

    In 2009 and 2010, the most significant energy legislation in a generation was being debated in Congress. Hundreds if not thousands of interest groups from business, the environmental movement, organized labor, and citizen action committees, together with all their lobbyists, jammed the halls of the Capitol to press their case for myriad different policies and provisions or simply for their share of the pork. Think tanks and academics and the talking heads who spin their work into sound bites geared up for what advocates anticipated might be a landmark bill reshaping energy policy for decades to come. In 2009, the...

  18. 14 Disaster in the Gulf
    (pp. 249-264)

    On the evening of June 15, 2010, Barack Obama delivered his first Oval Office address to the nation. Surrounded by flags and pictures of his family, President Obama began, “On April 20th, an explosion ripped through [the] BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, about 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Eleven workers lost their lives. Seventeen others were injured. And soon, nearly a mile beneath the surface of the ocean, oil began spewing into the water. Because there has never been a leak this size at this depth, stopping it has tested the limits of human technology.” The president promised...

  19. Key Energy Data
    (pp. 265-270)
  20. Chronology
    (pp. 271-278)
  21. Bibliographic Essay
    (pp. 279-354)
  22. Index
    (pp. 355-370)