Thirty-four years. It was a third of a century ago today, that the Department of Energy was born:
Prior to 1973, the United States had no coherent energy policy. Instead, a number of smaller agencies, often working independently of one another, handled different aspects of the nation’s energy needs. In the early years of the Atomic Age, for example, the military assumed responsibility for all nuclear-related issues.
The Nixon administration responded [to the 1973 Arab oil embargo – ed.] with Project Independence and the creation of the Federal Energy Office, the former intended to give the United States total energy independence by 1980 and the latter to manage a national energy policy. The energy program grew incrementally under the Nixon and Ford administrations, but remained diffuse.
Jimmy Carter had acquired a technical background in nuclear propulsion as an engineering officer in the Navy. When he took office in 1977, he proposed creating a Cabinet-level überagency that would consolidate everything energy-related — research, exploration, conservation, production and disposal — under its authority. The Energy Department would also be responsible for setting the national energy agenda and assuring nuclear safety.
Congress passed the act, and Carter signed it Aug. 4. The Department of Energy began operating Oct. 1, 1977.
Government programs have much shorter gestation periods and much longer lifespans than the humans who comprise them.
But just look at the results! For the last 34 years, we’ve had a coherent energy policy! That this policy appears to have been designed by monkeys trying to write Shakespeare, and has done to the country approximately what the chimps would do to the typewriters after a few minutes is beside the point. It’s a policy! It’s coherent!
(And what came before, only set the stage. Like most of Nixon’s forays into economic policy, Project Independence achieved all of its goals, and then some! Oh, wait.)
I particularly like the part about assuring nuclear safety. Two years later, Three Mile Island imitated “art.” It doesn’t actually say anything about ensuring the availability of nuclear power. That would have to wait for deregulation, according to a new study from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.
Wow. Seems like only yesterday that gas cost $0.50.