Visualizing U.S. Energy Policy

Blanz Roadshow 01

There is a rather antiquated belief that the oil and gas industrydrives US energy policy. This is usually framed in people’s minds as apleading oil and gas lobbyist making sure that the US stays hooked onoil. While this image may be accurate with regards to the US coalindustry, which does indeed have heavy influence on Congress and policy, it’s much less the case with oil and gas. And here’s why: The USautomobile industry and the US highway construction industry performsall the heavy lifting one could require, to ensure that US primaryenergy usage stays overweighted to liquid fuel consumption. These twoindustries dwarf any other influence on US energy policy through theirwidespread distribution throughout 50 US states, and Congress.

One of the first major acts of our new President and Congress in 2009 was to invest over 100 billion in the auto manufacturing complex, andthe highway construction complex. US energy policy, therefore, is not so much about the oil and gas industry or even the coal industry. USenergy policy, which is essentially about how we will use energy in thefuture, is guided most by our transport–not our powergrid–system. It isthe height of either irony, or absurdity, therefore that the US climatechange movement has incorrectly and repeatedly chosen to focus on thepowergrid as the lever to effect carbon reduction. Neither on a primaryusage basis nor especiallyon an emissions basis does the powergrid exceed transport as theproblem. The President and Congress, and especially US Governors, remain committed to investing in the Automobile-US Highway Constructioncomplex. Here is President Obama just last month:

So, GM and Chrysler went through painfulrestructurings: ones that required enormous sacrifices on the part ofall involved.  Many believed this was a fool’s errand.  Many feared wewould be throwing good money after bad: that taxpayers would lose mostof their investment and that these companies would soon failregardless.  But one year later, the outlook is very different. In fact, the industry is recovering at a pace few thought possible.

Overall energy policy in the US is depicted nicely in the abovepainting by Hubert Blanz, from his Roadshow series. Although fanciful and exaggerated, there is a helpful truth in the exaggeration: The US  does precisely zero to transition awayfrom automobile and highway transport, and quantifiably, undertakesnothing but token investment in other means of conveyance. Meanwhile, we continue to plan for massive, new investment in our highways. It’s legitimate to be aggrievedthat the global, and US, oil and gas industry no doubt spends hundredsof millions of dollars each year to restrain regulation over extraction. There’s no argument that this is the case, but this skews more towardsenvironmental policy–not overall energy policy–which governs the mostimportant factor of all: demand. Your President, your Congress, and your Governors are doing everything they possibly can to make surethat the demand for oil here in the US, and dependency on oil here inthe US, rolls onward.


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