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Economics, Law, and Politics: What Will Drive Energy's Future?

Joseph P. Kalt, Proceedings of 50th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (2004)

I have been asked to address the future of energy: the futures of energy economics, energy politics, and energy policy. This is a timely assignment. While we may be lulled periodically into complacency by calm markets and low prices, recent economic, political, and even military events serve to remind us that management of our energy affairs is critical to the country and the world. But where to start? In order to try to get a grasp on what the future holds for energy markets, politics, and policy, it makes sense to start with a look at the past.

Just over three decades ago, energy entered the broad civic consciousness as its own topic--as a fundamental area of public policy, warranting its own federal department; as a new-found specialty for ballooning numbers of economists, attorneys, activists, and public officials; and as a floundering point for a generation worried that the good times had been theirs, but might not be their children's. For the general public in this land of plenty, the original cauterizing events of the 1970s were natural gas shortages and long lines at gas pumps. We were mortified when we saw ourselves waiting in those lines--like dreary Soviet consumers waiting in line for the last ham hock.

Now, 30 years later, we have built a culture and political environment in which it is de rigueur to point fingers of shame at profligate energy use