From the Carter Presidency to the Apollo Alliance: Changing Motivations behind Alternative Energy Policy in the United States

As Richard Neustadt and Ernest May argue in their book Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers, there are significant lessons to be gleaned from historical analyses of previous governmental actions. Much to the chagrin of even the most casual of historians, these lessons are often overlooked or misused, leading to recurring mistakes being made in the public policy arena. I plan to use this foundational idea to support an analysis of the Presidency of Jimmy Carter, specifically focusing on the motivations behind his push for alternative energy legislation at the federal level.  

I plan to conduct a historical analysis of the importance of this period for US energy policy moving forward, and will tie it in to current efforts to reform US energy policy being conducted by the Apollo Alliance, a sub-group of the coalition of labor and environmental organizations known as the BlueGreen Alliance. After comparing and contrasting the two pushes for energy policy reform, I will frame the policy debate going forward, analyzing the potential for political compromise on the subject in the coming years based on the current policy atmosphere surrounding the alternative energy field. My central question will be to develop a better understanding of what the Carter Administration can teach current policymakers about the national alternative energy debate, and whether or not there are relevant policy lessons to be learned from Carter’s actions.

The alternative energy question is one that is important not only for the national security and economic vitality of the United States over the course of the next several decades, but one that is also becoming increasingly relevant to the environmental conditions within the US as well. Though it is often easy to overlook environmental concerns, especially when more apparently pressing issues such as the economy or healthcare are dominating the national policy discussion, it is important to remember that no policy area is entirely independent of any other, and that success in one area may lead to gains in another policy field as well. In this case, significant progress in the alternative energy field could provide the United States with a host of new skilled labor jobs, working to help bring down the virtually stagnant high unemployment rate. Alternative energy legislation could also help to limit the air pollution issues that face some of America’s most populous areas, contributing to a range of health issues from increased asthma rates to higher levels of upper respiratory infections. For these reasons, among many others, it is important to consider the history of alternative energy legislation in the United States and to use this knowledge to support political compromise between the Presidency and Congress on this policy issue moving forward.

I’m excited to read any feedback you have to offer, and I can’t wait to get to know you guys better this fall!

– Matt Genova, Vanderbilt University

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