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Plumbline Author: Ethan Brue
Date: May 24, 2001
Topic: The Inalienable Right to Cheap Energy

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights". Over 200 years after these words were written by the founders of our nation, Americans are actively seeking to raise a new found right to inalienable status. This bipartisan movement, that enjoys public support across the nation, has resolved to place "cheap energy" just below the inalienable rights of life and liberty.

The latest National Energy Policy proposal emerging from the White House is one outgrowth of this popular movement. Filled with interesting data, diagrams, and numerous graphs that rise and fall obediently according to the will of staff writers, the document succeeds as an informative primer on energy issues. However, as an energy policy it presents nothing new, just more of the old in a new package. With a vagueness that I assume is intentional, the policy subtly suggests that energy conservation and energy expansion are no longer polar opposites. "Reliable, Affordable, and Environmentally Sound Energy for America's Future" (NEP Overview-1) are the three broad objectives of the policy. But of these three, environmental concerns are clearly overshadowed by the objectives of maintaining an abundant and low cost energy supply. Objectives that clearly reaffirm the new found American right not only to cheap energy, but also to cheap energy in abundance.

Previous White House administrations have demonstrated the same energy policy based on the "cheap energy" platform. For example, less than a year ago, oil was released from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an unprecedented peacetime move, motivated only by a perceived need to reduce the cost of oil-based energy. Across the nation, savvy legislators conveniently substitute energy politics for energy policy, eager to appease restless constituents who see abundantly cheap energy as their right.

Politicians are caught in a web of trying to appease voters with cheap energy in the short term, while simultaneously promoting alternative energy and conservation for the future. As a result, the conflicting nature of lower energy prices and conservation is frequently ignored. If conservation is a real objective, as politicians would like us to believe, decreasing energy costs is the wrong tool for stimulating conservation measures. Secondly, while I am not advocating an arbitrary increase in energy costs, nor am I condoning unjust pricing by utilities or corporations, higher energy costs do encourage substantial developments of renewable energy alternatives currently unable to compete with undervalued fossil fuels.

While this contradictory nature of energy politics deserves mention, I am far more concerned that we are developing a national energy policy for entirely the wrong reasons. Energy policy must be developed on the foundation of conservation and environmental stewardship, not on some notion of the American right to cheap energy, or on some fear in upsetting the status quo of perpetual economic expansion. As Spirit-filled Christ followers we do not claim a right to cheap energy, rather we recognize that energy resources are given to us by God for our care and not for

our exploitation. We have been raised to new life in order that we might live in the freedom of who we were created to be - cosmic gardeners who care and cultivate all that God has called "good". As redeemed earth-keepers, energy conservation becomes one way in which the Spirit prompts us to look not only to the interests of our generation, but also to the interests of future generations.

However we interpret the proposed National Energy Policy, we must recognize that it is more than just a technical document. It is a statement of faith. This becomes quite evident when it is assumed that any future obstacles and/or negative consequences resulting from the energy plan will be "met with rapidly improving technology" as the policy repeatedly emphasizes (NEP 1-1). Technological choices always reflect the gods in which we trust. Christ followers on the other hand, know that while "some trust in technology, we trust in the name of the Lord our God". With this in mind it is important for us to ask.Does our use of energy resources clearly communicate to the world our trust in THE God who made all things good?

For Plumbline, this is Ethan Brue, Professor of Engineering, Dordt College.

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