Energy Policy

The Role of Government in Energy and Climate Policy


Really, we've been talking about the role of government in the context of energy policy all along in the course so far. The government is involved in energy policy at various steps along the way from inception to enforcement. Let's take a look. As we go over these, consider the types of governmental bodies that need to be involved at various stages. (Don't forget about vertical and horizontal policy diffusion!)

The Role of Government in Energy Policy
Stage of Development Governmental Roles/Responsibilities

Policy development often begins with one or a few legislators choosing a topic and moving forward to develop a comprehensive policy to address their constituents' concerns about a topic.

Lawmakers seek input from relevant stakeholders external to the formal legislative process, including scientists, other experts, industry leaders, and the general public.

The draft legislation likely moves through sub-committees and committees before being considered for a vote (whether that's Congress or your local Board of Supervisors).


Once a bill is passed into law (or a resolution, ordinance, etc.) it requires implementation oversight. Usually, a new law becomes the responsibility of an existing agency or entity, though in rare cases, it may call for the creation of a new one. For example, if a law falls under the EPA's jurisdiction - if it involves "protecting human health and the environment," which is their mission - they write the regulations that dictate how that law will be applied. As they state on their website: "When Congress writes an environmental law, we implement it by writing regulations." 

If we think for a moment about the federal scale, depending on the type of legislation prescribed, there may be cause to involve the Securities Exchange Commission (think cap and trade system for tradeable permits) or other financial institutions to establish frameworks from which the policy will be operated. Laws with environmental impacts are of course implemented by the EPA; you will read more about a seminal EPA ruling this week when you read about the "endangerment finding" in 2007.

Implementation and enforcement may overlap considerably, with the governmental bodies listed below having implementation responsibilities.

Enforcement The most common federal agencies to have jurisdiction over national energy and environmental policy are the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, or the Department of Agriculture. As the EPA notes, after they write and implement regulations, they also "enforce [the] regulations, and help companies understand the requirements."

The role of government is often a contentious issue in policy development. Views on the role of government represents one of the fundamental defining characteristics of how people align themselves politically. While Republican-leaning individuals and companies tend to emphasize a minimal role for government (particularly the federal government), Democratic-leaning individuals often place more stock in the ability of government-led programs to be successful and cost-effective. This course isn't about deciding whether one of those views is right or wrong - there are valid elements in each approach. What I hope you take away from this material is first, that there is a role for our government in the context of energy policy. Given that governments are at minimum charged with helping to protect the welfare of its citizens, energy and climate change are essential considerations and require some government involvement, even if it is just oversight. Second, regardless of how much of a role you think they should play, the government is involved and so it is important for us to understand how they impact policy development, implementation, and enforcement.