June 11, 2001
Energy misinformation in D.C.
Jimmy Carter, 39th president of the United States, is chairman of the Carter Center.
It has been more than 20 years since our country developed a comprehensive
energy policy. It is important for President Bush and Congress to take
another look at this important issue, but not based on misleading statements
made lately by high administration officials. These comments have distorted
history and future needs.
I was governor of Georgia during the administration of Richard Nixon,
when a combination of oil shortages and an OPEC boycott produced a real
energy crisis in the United States. Five years later, the Iran-Iraq war
shut off 4 million barrels of the worlds daily oil supplies almost
overnight, and the price of energy more than doubled in just 12 months.
This caused a wave of inflation in all industrialized countries and created
energy shortages. As before, there were long lines of vehicles at service
stations, with drivers eager to pay even astronomical prices for available
No energy crisis exists now that equates in any way with those we faced
in 1973 and 1979. World supplies are adequate and reasonably stable, price
fluctuations are cyclical, reserves are plentiful, and automobiles arent
waiting in line at service stations. Exaggerated claims seem designed
to promote some long-frustrated ambitions of the oil industry at the expense
of environmental quality.
Also contrary to recent statements by top officials, a bipartisan Congress
worked closely with me for four years to create a well-balanced approach
to the problem. No influential person ever spoke exclusively of
conservation, and my administration never believed that we
could simply conserve or ration our way out of any energy crisis.
On the contrary, we emphasized both energy conservation and the increased
production of oil, gas, coal and solar energy. Permanent laws were laboriously
hammered out that brought an unprecedented commitment to efficient use
of energy supplies. We mandated improved home insulation, energy savings
in the design of industrial equipment and home appliances and a step-by-step
increase in gas mileage of all automobiles manufactured in our country.
When I was inaugurated, American vehicles were averaging only 12 miles
per gallon. Today, new cars reach more than twice this gas mileage, which
would be much higher except for the failure to maintain the efficiency
standards, beginning in the Reagan years. (Gas mileage has actually gone
down during the past five years.)
Official statistics published by the departments of energy and labor
reveal the facts: Since I signed the final energy bills in 1980, Americas
gross national product has increased by
Although these energy conservation decisions have been criticized as
a sign of [my] personal virtue, it is clear that the benefits
have resulted from a commitment to improved technology, with extremely
beneficial results for American consumers, business and commerce. Top
executives in the oil industry should acknowledge their tremendous freedom
to explore, extract and market oil and gas products that resulted from
the decisions made by Congress during my term in Washington.
In fact, our most difficult legislative battle was over the deregulation
of oil and gas prices, designed so that competitive prices would both
discourage the waste of energy and promote exploration for new sources
of petroleum products. At the end of 1980, every available drilling rig
in the United States was being utilized at full capacity, and dependence
on foreign imports was falling rapidly.
Despite these facts, some officials are using misinformation and scare
tactics to justify such environmental atrocities as drilling in the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation
Act, which I signed in December 1980, approved 100 percent of the offshore
areas and 95 percent of the potentially productive oil and mineral areas
for exploration or for drilling. We excluded the wildlife refuge, confirming
a decision first made by President Dwight Eisenhower, when Alaska became
a state in 1959, to set aside this area as a precious natural heritage.
Those who advocate drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to
meet current needs are careful to conceal the facts that almost none of
the electricity in energy-troubled California is generated from oil.
It is important for private citizens and organizations to know the facts and to join in the coming debatesso we can continue the policies of the late 1970s: a careful balance between production and conservation.
This essay first appeared in The Washington Post and is reprinted with permission.