GEOG 432
Energy Policy

Policy Theory: Plans of Action to Achieve Desirable Goals


Before we can delve into policy theory, we need to start with a working definition of policy. It's one of those terms that we all know what it means, and it's a part of our everyday lives, but might be a little harder to define. While there are many variations of the definition of policy out there, I find that this definition, offered by Charles L. Cochran and Eloise F. Malone has a particularly relevant definition of public policy for our purposes in this course. Now, I'd like to break it down into pieces and think about it in terms of energy policies.

"Public policy consists of political decisions for implementing programs to achieve societal goals."

POLITICS - if it isn't already apparent to you, it soon will be as you explore the material in this course that, like most things, energy policy is a highly politicized (and often polarizing) issue on which decisions made have every bit as much to do with political strategy as they do solving a problem. This holds true for energy policy at all geographic scales we'll be exploring, with some overlapping and other unique characteristics along the way. As you work your way through this course, you'll gain a better understanding of the political dynamics of energy policy. According to Fortune, 5 of the 6 most profitable companies in the world were energy companies - energy companies with a predominant fossil-fuel based focus. As such, you can imagine that energy companies are heavily invested in ensuring that energy policy in the United States is favorable to them. Other players including environmental groups and the agricultural lobby in this country also play a large role in informing and influencing policy decisions related to energy.

DECISIONS - the decisions to enact (or to not enact) policies related to energy issues are heavy and complicated. There are no easy, black and white or binary decisions to be made. Considerations for winners and losers, political palatability, costs, and outcomes entangle with each other to create a challenging playing field for energy policymakers and analysts. Throughout this course, you'll be challenged to focus not just on the explicit goals of an energy policy, but to explore it further to understand the underlying consequences of its enactment.

IMPLEMENTATION - perhaps one of the most important pieces of the policy puzzle is successful implementation. Implementation of a policy begins during the policy design and analysis phases, and is the most integral component to ensuring the policy achieves its intended goals. Considerations for policy implementation include the Who, What, Where, When, and How. Clearly defined roles for jurisdiction over policy oversight coupled with strategies for dealing with non-compliance are necessary to execute the plans decreed in any policy. As we'll learn with energy and sustainability policy, there are often competing interests for the role of oversight in policy.

PROGRAMS - there are myriad ways to achieve a goal, and in this lesson we'll be looking at the different types of policy available. Taxes, regulations, laws, standards, incentives, and the list goes on. It's important to understand how policy instruments work for different types of energy challenges. Will tax credits incentivize enough behavioral changes to make a dent in residential greenhouse gas emissions? Will a carbon tax unduly harm the poorest families in the country? Will increased funding for carbon capture and sequestration be the answer to continuing to utilize the abundant resource of coal without increasing greenhouse gas emissions? Understanding the workings of different policy options will give you the skills you need to make grounded decisions about effective and practical policy programs.

SOCIETAL GOALS - What exactly are we setting out to achieve with energy policies? As you explore the history of energy policies of the United States, you'll see that our goals are changing over time as we learn more about the environmental consequences of our consumption, deal with political tensions in procuring energy resources, and begin to think about catapulting ourselves into the future with new and innovative technologies to supply energy. While our goals initially focused on providing access to affordable energy, we're now expanding our reach and searching for policies that enable us to not only deliver affordable energy, but generate it using sustainable resources. It's important to remember, however, that not everyone shares the same goals for energy policy, and this tension over what the best energy policies for the country (and ultimately the planet) are moving forward is a pivotal challenge in creating, enacting, and implementing energy policies in the 21st century.