America's overreliance on petroleum is the source of all its energy problems.


If the recent Presidential campaign demonstrated anything, it was that Americans want and expect the next president to make dramatic changes in U.S. energy policy. Americans want to see a substantial reduction in their country's reliance on imported oil— especially from hostile countries or those perceived as posing a significant security threat, such as the nations of the Middle East or Russia and Venezuela. With concern over global warming growing, Americans also want to see a large increase in reliance on renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power. And they want any progress on the energy front to create jobs and economic opportunities at home, rather than in foreign countries.

All summer and fall, the two candidates spoke time and again about energy as a transcendent issue, one that affected national security as well as economic affairs and that would demand special attention from the next president. As a result of such rhetoric, voters will expect substantial progress—and fast. Achieving the goals listed above, however, will require major social, economic and political adjustments, as well as unbelievably complex legislation. Billions—perhaps trillions—of dollars in new federal subsidies, loans and tax breaks will also be needed to jump-start the development of new energy systems. The next president risks devoting weeks and months to promoting a bold energy plan only to run into gridlock as key components get bogged down in congressional squabbling. High expectations could turn to bitterness as the optimists are forced to confront political and economic realities.

To prevent that, it's essential that the next president focus less on the nuts and bolts than on the overall objective of the new energy plan: namely, where it should lead. Although both candidates talked about energy reform with great passion, neither offered a clear answer to that question. But the next president should boldly announce that the United States will begin moving in the next few decades from a petroleum-centered energy system to one that is diversified, technology-driven and climate-friendly.