‘All of the above’ should mean all of the above

Both President Obama and Republican leaders have called for an “all of the above” approach to U.S. energy policy. It is one of the few areas where the parties seem to be in agreement, assuming the “all of the above” strategy backed by both parties means what it says.

I’ve toiled in the energy policy field for many years. What I’ve found is that energy policy is naturally nonpartisan or bipartisan, so an outbreak of bipartisanship on energy policy should not make anyone uncomfortable.

I also understand how proponents of different energy resources do battle. They all too often try to handicap their competitors to gain a competitive advantage.

But this kind of gamesmanship doesn’t work anymore. We need every resource available to meet the needs of America’s consumers.

One hundred years ago, Winston Churchill explained the importance of diversity in oil supply to the British Empire by saying, “On no one quality, on no one process … must we be dependent. Safety and certainty in oil lie in variety and variety alone.”

If you substitute “electricity” for “oil,” you have the foundation of a sound energy policy for the United States. Today we must fashion public policy to bring about a greater diversity of electricity supply.

Republicans in particular should truly embrace an all-of-the-above energy strategy.

Republicans have long recognized that we cannot just trust in the marketplace to deliver a diverse supply of affordable electricity. Sometimes the government must step in. Dwight Eisenhower signed a law promoting nuclear energy development in 1954. Twenty years ago, George H.W. Bush enacted legislation promoting wind energy through the production tax credit. The current nuclear expansion would not have been possible without federal government loan guarantees under a law enacted by George W. Bush.

Promoting price stability and power supply diversity are important national security interests. When the country becomes too dependent on foreign oil or on one particular source for electric power, the marketplace becomes volatile and the country is put at a strategic disadvantage. A more balanced approach steadies prices.

Without public policy support for a diverse electricity supply, the U.S. risks staggering down a volatile path of price shocks and insecure supply. We would adopt a herd mentality, betting on whichever fuel or technology looked cheapest at the time. We would follow price changes, not anticipate them, lunging from one fuel to the next, based solely on short-term price outlook. Electricity supply changes would display all the discipline and foresight of a binge drinker.

The common wisdom on energy trends is commonly wrong. Thirty years ago Congress banned natural gas for electricity generation to preserve our perceived dwindling supply. A few years ago, natural gas prices were expected to remain at very high levels, spurring a building boom of liquefied natural gas import terminals. Today, it appears the U.S. may be awash in a sea of low-cost shale gas in perpetuity. As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”