This article comes from a new casebook on environmental ethics
co-authored with James Martin Schramm and forthcoming from Orbis
Books in 2004.
 Two primary visions of the future vie with each other to
control the direction of U.S. energy policy. Developmentalists such
as President Bush and Vice President Cheney advocate increasing the
supply of energy and would assign large corporations the primary
task of finding new sources and generating power. They assume
technological innovations and market mechanisms will overcome
resource limits and pollution problems. Willing to entertain a few
conservation measures and endure limited environmental regulation,
they advocate a minimum of government intervention in markets.
Their vision of the future is economic. In this vision economic
growth will provide ample wealth for every person as long as the
nation stays the course of market capitalism.
 In contrast, a new vision of a sustainable energy future
with broad support in the environmental community has emerged. Its
proponents see government and the corporate sector cooperating to
provide sufficient energy supplies while protecting the
environment. They recommend dispersed and less intrusive
technologies and a shift to renewable energy sources. They value
frugality and a more equitable distribution of income, wealth, and
power. They are more ecocentric than anthropocentric and focus on
environmental limits to continued economic expansion.
 These two visions are generating increasing political
conflict as the nation struggles to find a coherent energy policy.
The need for such a policy became evident in the 1970s with an oil
embargo and declining domestic reserves of oil. The need has grown
due to political instability in major oil-producing regions,
expanding demand, and increasing awareness of environmental
 The problems confronting the nation are numerous,
interrelated, and urgent. First are the problems clustered around
the question of sustainability. On the one hand many forms of
energy used today threaten ecological sustainability. The burning
of the fossil fuels oil, natural gas, and coal contribute to global
warming. Coal-fired utility plants emit sulfur dioxide and nitric
oxides that precipitate out as acid rain which degrades lakes and
streams. Cars emit a number of air pollutants and create
photochemical smog. The pumping of oil and gas and the strip mining
of coal do damage to ecosystems that provide critical habitats for
species. In addition, fossil fuels are not renewable and will
eventually become more scarce and expensive.
 Likewise, dams built to generate renewable and inexpensive
electric power from the water cycle degrade critical habitat.
Nuclear energy, while long lasting, presents mammoth problems of
waste storage and safety, including the threat of terrorist
 On the other hand are fuels that are not as damaging to the
environment but threaten the economic expansion that President Bush
holds so dear. Solar sources and solar derivatives such as wind and
hydro, are renewable and thus long-lasting, but may not provide
enough power to meet high levels of demand. Many renewable forms
remain expensive and for several the necessary infrastructure is
not in place or even planned. The burning of hydrogen, the most
abundant atom, to power motor vehicles shows promise but separating
oxygen from hydrogen in water molecules is expensive. Again, no
infrastructure is in place. Nuclear fusion offers an almost
unlimited source of energy, but costs may be astronomical and
scientists have not yet and may never solve the problem of
containing the fusion reaction.
 Clustered around sufficiency, the second of the norms in the
ethic of ecological justice, are concerns about meeting basic
energy needs at a reasonable cost to society and ecosystems. What
constitutes basic energy need is itself controversial. The Bush
administration's energy plan, predicated on a developmentalist
vision, assumes high and expanding levels of consumption and is
designed primarily to fuel expanding demand. Sufficiency means
success in this endeavor.
 To those who advocate for a sustainable energy future, these
levels of consumption are far too high and should be reduced.
Sufficiency to them means meeting genuinely basic needs, not
inflated wants. While unable to come up with a number, they are
certain that it is far less than present levels of consumption. The
problem, as they see it, is high and increasing demand.
 To reduce levels of consumption they recommend conservation
measures. Conservation is a vague term, but in the context of
energy discussions it generally means increased efficiency, less
waste, and reduced demand. Efficiency means more energy output for
less input and is usually attained by increasing the amount of heat
from a given source or shifting to more efficient sources.1 Less
waste means matching energy source to end use and the reduction of
pollutants and heat loss. Reduced demand means less consumption and
 Conservation measures have become increasingly important
since the oil embargo of the 1970s exposed U.S. dependence on
foreign sources. U.S. oil reserves are declining. The Persian Gulf
region and the states of the former Soviet Union have the largest
petroleum reserves.2 Instabilities in both regions have increased
U.S. vulnerability. Conservation is a primary way to reduce this
vulnerability. Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001,
energy conservation has become a matter of national security.
 Clustered around the third norm, participation, are three
important questions. First, how are energy decisions to be made?
The National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPD) led by Vice
President Cheney apparently put the administration's energy plan
together primarily from recommendations suggested by
representatives from the energy industry.3 Who actually
participated remains a mystery because the administration refuses
to tell the public. The need for congressional approval and
involvement has added a measure of popular participation, but still
the process seems to have been limited. However limited the process
was, future deliberations should be more transparent and offer
opportunities for those affected to have a voice.
 The second question has to do with the nature of the
technologies used to produce energy. Complex, technically
sophisticated, and centralized technologies, for example nuclear,
do not permit much participation. In contrast, decentralized forms
like solar do.
 The third question involves jobs. For better or worse,
participation in the economy means having a job. Energy policies
and systems should increase meaningful employment. Labor saving
technologies may not necessarily be the best for a sufficient and
sustainable energy future.
 The final norm in the ethic of ecological justice is
solidarity and has to do primarily with questions of distribution
and bearing the burden of increased energy costs. The distribution
of income and wealth in the U.S. is increasingly unequal.4 As
energy costs rise, the poor will bear a heavier burden. They
already bear the heavier burden of disease and premature death from
pollution, because energy facilities and toxic waste dumps are
seldom located in wealthy neighborhoods.5
 To sum up, energy choices are social choices. The mix of
sources and levels of consumption Americans elect today will go a
long way to shape society and culture for years to come. These
choices are critical.
Guidelines for Energy Decisions
 The four norms in the ethic of ecological justice set the
general direction. We offer further guidelines based on these norms
and the current energy situation.6 These guidelines serve as an
evaluative tool to assess energy policies and various energy
alternatives, such as trade-offs between coal, nuclear, and solar
options. Given the number and variety of guidelines,
decision-makers should not expect a perfect fit. Some guidelines
will suggest one direction or option, others different directions
and options. Many decisions will be close calls with pluses and
minuses nearly equal. For the purposes of this commentary, the
following guidelines deserve attention.
The Context of the Administration's Energy
 Before assessing the Bush administration's energy plan
using the four norms in the ethic of ecological justice and the
twelve guidelines, it is important to recognize the context in
which it was developed. The U.S. business community is a critical
constituency for Republicans, if not necessarily in terms of raw
votes, certainly in terms of money and public relations. This
constituency, while hardly of one mind, is generally conservative
in the sense of protecting the prerogatives of management and
promoting commercial interests. Matters of economy, especially
economic growth and low rates of inflation are central
 The business community is dominated by developmentalist and
to a lesser degree conservationist perspectives. While there are
differences in this community on the matter of government
regulation, generally this community is laissez faire except when
it comes to government purchases and subsidies. The environment is
of secondary concern, although this is changing with increased
environmental awareness. Environmental degradation is not
considered a major problem because new technologies are assumed to
be available to solve pollution problems or limited resource
 That the Bush administration favors increasing energy
supplies and handing the job to large corporations is not
surprising. It is a logical outcome of a perspective sincerely
believed and a desire to serve an important constituency. In terms
of the norms of the ethic of ecological justice and the twelve
guidelines, the Bush plan correlates the norms of sufficiency and
solidarity, claiming that sufficiency means high levels of
consumption and economic growth. The administration translates the
concern for the poor into policy through high levels of employment
that are thought to be the only way to relieve poverty. In the
words of former President John F. Kennedy: "A rising tide raises
 From the guidelines the administration stresses efficiency
as productivity, adequacy of supply, lower monetary costs to
industry, high employment, and timely decision-making. These are
all reasonable emphases in the economic climate of the past
 Whether appeals in the plan to environmental soundness and
consistency with good environmental practice are mere window
dressing is difficult to judge. Probably not, given the assumptions
of the perspective. Also, while the environmental record of the
Bush administration has been spotty, it does not advocate wholesale
abandonment of major environmental safeguards.7 Finally, the
appearance of being anti-environmental is not politically wise in a
time of increasing awareness. It is therefore safe to assume that
the administration has at least minimal concern for environmental
preservation, particularly forms that do not require economic
 Many Americans share the administration's perspective. Many
more understand the dynamics of unemployment and vote their
pocketbooks first. Far less have a working knowledge of
environmental complexities and find the capacity to assess the
threat of environmental degradation.
 Appreciation of the context and the concerns that dominate
the plan does not mean acceptance, however. To those of
preservationist and critical eco-justice perspectives and even to
some conservationists the plan is fatally flawed. In terms of the
four general norms these critics note the lack of participation of
critical groups in the development of the plan and question the
premise that economic growth raises all boats. In fact during the
past decades the boats of the wealthy have risen much faster, and
many have been by-passed by economic expansion. These critics also
think the plan with its assumption of ever increasing consumption
is unsustainable on environmental grounds.
 To get the essential information and assumptions of the
Bush energy plan, go to the plan itself. Detailed recommendations
are to be found in the eighth chapter of the plan.8 The House of
Representatives passed the plan last year. The Senate passed a
quite different version, and the two plans were never reconciled.
With a Republican majority in both houses the prospects for passage
have improved considerably. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
hangs in the balance. Senate Republicans want to include drilling
in an appropriations bill to avoid a filibuster. Several Republican
senators have objected, however.
Assessing the Plan
 The Bush administration's energy plan has several
strengths. With regard to the twelve guidelines the plan is strong
on efficiency in terms of energy use, if not in terms of reduced
consumption. If adequacy of supply is defined as the meeting of
expanding energy wants, the plan is good for the short term and
provides some incentives for shifting to more sustainable sources.
The plan supports tax-credits for the research and development of
renewable energy sources, even though it does not place much short
term reliance on these sources.
 The plan considers the critical risk factor to be the
threat to economic growth and current standards of living. It
provides for both, assuming again that human ingenuity will bring
forth the necessary new technologies that will overcome
 Under the administration's plan, other things being equal,
employment levels should remain high. The planners correctly assume
that jobs in today's economy are directly related to economic
growth. Were energy shortages to appear, unemployment would
probably rise with attendant political consequences.
 The plan calls for a multiplicity of approaches and thus
factors in some flexibility. Decisions for fossil fuels, nuclear,
and hydro have environmental consequences, however. The plans opts
for timely decision-making by reducing regulation, facilitating
permits for new infrastructure, and opening up federal lands that
were previously off-limits.
 The effects of the administration's plan on national
security and prospects for reducing armed conflict are impossible
to predict. Certainly having ANWR on line will not do much for
energy independence. Still, the plan could reduce dependence
somewhat by increasing U.S. production.
 Whether the plan will deliver on these positive elements is
also difficult to assess, as so much depends on the development of
new technologies and on the private sector serving the public good.
The Bush administration is highly optimistic on these counts, and,
as a consequence, is willing to keep running what amounts to a
radical experiment on the environment.
 Negatively, critics of the plan point to several
shortcomings. The plan starts with the status quo of free market
capitalism and extends its sway by giving the business sector a
large measure of freedom to pursue its interests. This system,
while productive, has seldom by itself produced an equitable
distribution of income and wealth. Channeling public funds to
corporations will not change this. The sole hope for the poor under
this plan is in high employment levels. The equitable distribution
of costs and benefits seems of little moment to the
 While the plan stresses increased economic efficiency, it
says little about the efficient workings of ecosystems or about
reduced consumption of energy. In so far as excessive consumption
drives environmental degradation, the plan heads in the wrong
 Adequacy of supply is a matter for the short term in the
plan. Defining adequacy in terms of basic needs is nowhere to be
found. Unlimited economic expansion is the real concern.
 The administration's plan nods in the direction of
renewable sources, but little more. An economy based on renewable
sources is not part of the plan's vision, and those pursuing this
path are little more than virtuous, according to Vice President
Cheney. To environmentalists the government has a role in pushing
the nation in the direction of sustainable energy paths. The plan
 The plan relies on large corporations and large-scale,
complex technologies, such as nuclear power. It ignores any notion
of appropriate technology.
 Risk has mostly an economic meaning in the plan. Risks to
the environment and costs to animals and people are assumed away
with technological fixes. Global warming is dismissed and so are
the high levels of risk associated with a commitment to nuclear.
While environmental compatibility is a strong theme, nowhere is it
spelled out. The planners assume the use of fossil fuel, nuclear,
and hydroelectric sources is compatible with environmental
protection. So much is glossed over that stated commitments to
environmental protection become suspect.
 How the plan promotes energy security, reduced dependence
on outside sources, and peace is a mystery. Even if domestic
production of oil and gas is stimulated, high levels of fossil fuel
consumption will continue. Domestic production will simply not be
adequate for such consumption.
 The monetary cost of meeting ever-increasing demand will be
stupendous. Scientists, technologists, and managers will demand
their due, and the consumer will pay. Global warming, degraded
ecosystems, and the mass extinction of species are not counted as
 Reliance on fossil fuels, nuclear, and hydroelectric is
lacking in flexibility. Environmentalists are calling for a much
greater commitment to a wide range of very flexible renewable
sources, most of which are easily altered if problems arise.
 The closed process that resulted in the plan and the
handing over of most energy decisions to the private sector, the
reduction of regulations, and the speeding up of energy decisions
do not lend themselves to increased participation.
 Aesthetics are not a factor in the plan. How the strip
mining of coal, the location of oil production facilities in
pristine wilderness, and more power plants are aesthetic is
difficult to fathom.
 All these criticisms come, of course, from an environmental
perspective that is rejected by the administration. The current
situation is, however, forcing choices between basic perspectives,
assumptions about the future, and basic ways of living. The choices
made today will have a far-reaching effect.
 Energy policy is complex. Comprehension requires basic
knowledge of economics, politics, the natural sciences, and ethics.
The depth and breadth of knowledge required is unfortunate because
today's energy choices will be an important factor in determining
tomorrow's society and the future of the global environment. Energy
choices are that critical.