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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
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.