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Professor, city official and corporate executive analyze energy policy

| Friday, October 9, 2015

As part of Energy Week at Notre Dame, the “Policy for a New Energy Future” forum was held in Washington Hall on Thursday night. This forum focused on both public and private solutions to energy problems and putting these problems in the context of a governmental framework.

Bruce Huber, associate professor of law at Notre Dame, began the forum with a discussion of the legal context of energy policy. Huber said energy policy is not an easily-defined topic.

“It is really hard to talk about energy policy because we don’t have anything resembling a unified energy policy in the United States,” Huber said. “’Policy’ conveys the idea of some sense of governmental control. It would be far more accurate to talk about energy ‘policies.’”

According to Huber, this lack of a coherent policy is a result of the institution of private property, which is ingrained in our governmental and legal system.

“There are these background principles of law that delve even as deep as our constitutional text,” Huber said. “[The principles] establish certain defaults on energy policy.”

After Huber’s discussion, James Mueller, chief of staff for the City of South Bend, talked about energy policy from the public sector’s perspective.

Mueller said there is little debate over the necessity of energy policy.

“The central question of tonight is whether policy is needed,” Mueller said. “I would say fundamentally that policy is absolutely needed.”

In discussing the successes of energy policy, Mueller pointed to the national energy bills of 2005 and 2007. These bills were passed with bipartisan support and introduced renewable fuel and energy efficiency standards.

According to Mueller, “the policies that have traditionally driven energy policy are tax policies.” 

These policies, which include production tax credits for wind and investment tax credits for solar and wind power, provide the basis for governmental action relating to energy policy and limiting the carbon footprint of the United States, he said.

The final speaker at the forum, vice president and treasurer of ExxonMobil Corporation Robert N. Schleckser, presented the private sector’s view on matters relating to energy policy.

Schleckser stressed the middle ground that could be reached between government and private goals in achieving effective energy policy.

“While [Mueller’s] description of the problem and mine will feel like they’re coming from two different angles, the objectives of the process are the same from his side of the picture and mine,” Schleckser said.

Schleckser said market-based solutions are the most effective way to implement an energy policy which limits the carbon footprint yet still produces an efficient outcome. Schleckser said he supported a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

“The point of a carbon tax should not be to raise additional government revenue.” Schleckser said. “[It is necessary to] offset other taxes from what you raise with the carbon tax.”

According to Schleckser, “technology and market forces will cause the right choices to be made.”

Despite the fact that “there is no silver bullet in energy policy,” Huber said there is optimism from both the public and private perspective that given time, the United States can create a coherent economic policy which benefits both parties.

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About Lucas Masin-Moyer

Lucas Masin-Moyer is a senior at Notre Dame majoring in Political Science and American Studies. He serves as Assistant Managing Editor, lived in Morrissey Manor and hails from Telford, Pennsylvania.

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