Energy Strategy? What Energy Strategy?

Oil prices hit $100 a barrel again yesterday due to market jitters, a move that will translate into more pain for struggling consumers. This is in part due to unfortunate, hard-to-control factors, notably supply cutoff threats from Hugo Chavez and a refinery explosion in Texas.

But there's no denying that as a country we have made ourselves especially vulnerable to such incidents. How so? By abdicating the responsibility to adopt a national energy strategy aimed at reducing our overwhelming dependence on production of a resource that largely lies underground in other nations.

I had the privilege of going to lunch with a military leader yesterday who had the perfect perspective on our nation's self-imposed predicament. He quoted Sun Tzu: "Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."

The International Energy Agency (IEA) indicted this approach in a new publication reviewing U.S. energy policies. Among other findings, they noted that:

A fundamental problem is the absence of a clear link at the federal policy level between energy, environmental and security policies. While individual policies and measures address aspects of each of these three fundamental requirements, they are not consistent, and the United States energy policy as a whole is not doing well at balancing the three Es of economic development, energy supply security, and environmental protection. This lack of a balanced policy is contributing to the continued high and growing dependence on fossil fuels, a situation that is almost unique among IEA member countries, which in turn contributes to increasing import dependence, and worsening the environmental impacts of energy use. These two issues are interdependent, and addressing the environmental impact of energy use, in particular reducing the emissions of CO2, will automatically help lower the growing import dependence of the United States. (emphasis mine)

A short, more scathing assessment of the new fuel economy standards is also in there:

The IEA commends the decision by the US government and congress to pass the Energy Bill in December 2007, and with it the significant increase in CAFÉ (the corporate average fuel economy) standards. But it comes after almost two decades of inaction on this front, and the final standards will not be achieved before 2020. Given the technologies being implemented in vehicles today, it is doubtful whether such a long time-frame is really necessary to allow carmakers to adapt and it will leave consumers with vehicles that fall short of the technological possibilities. (emphasis mine)

These words and $100 a barrel oil are a wake-up call, requiring actions like the ones I wrote about in an Op Ed piece this past weekend.

Here's hoping that the next set of leaders that we send to Washington, D.C. to run things heed the call, because we literally can't afford to be asleep at the wheel anymore.