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Energy: A Nonpartisan Guide for U.S. Voters

While most of us probably take it for granted, energy plays an integral role in our daily lives—in commuting to work, running the dishwasher, charging our mobile devices, and cooling an office building, not to mention the manufacture of every product we buy. For better or for worse, nearly everything we do requires energy, and we use more energy now than we ever have before.

Meanwhile, our energy situation is changing rapidly. Our current energy outlook is far different than what it was just a few years ago; due mainly to a significant surge in domestic oil and natural gas production. In 2010, we imported less than 50 percent of the oil we used, for the first time in 13 years, and that trend continued in 2011. Still, this hopeful bit of news is itself fraught with tradeoffs, mainly environmental.

In fact, there are a lot of critical tradeoffs we will need to confront as we decide how to move forward on energy policy. Many advocate for things like developing infrastructure and technology for renewables like wind and solar power,modernizing our energy grid, or developing “clean coal” technology. The cost of these endeavors has the potential to be massive. In our fragile economy, are we prepared to widen our federal budget deficit for our energy needs?

Our energy policy also has the potential for creating a lot of jobs. People talk about “green jobs” that will come from developing infrastructure for renewable energy, but a lot of jobs (some say more) can also be created from upping our domestic production of oil and natural gas—we’ll need people to build the pipelines and do the drilling. But again, these job creation strategies may contribute significantly to the deficit. 

Understanding the tradeoffs we need to consider for our energy choices is critical. The difficulty is that energy policy represents a “triple threat” of challenges to confront, each daunting in its own right. (Click here to view Public Agenda's new energy infographic)

To help voters reach that understanding, Public Agenda’s Energy: A Citizens' Solutions Guide examines some of the approaches that candidates and policymakers from across the political spectrum support, including:

  • Moving away from a reliance on fossil fuels and making investments in renewable sources
  • Ensuring energy security by focusing on domestic fossil fuel production
  • Moving toward a more energy-efficient society by encouraging individuals and businesses to conserve, meanwhile modernizing our energy grid

The guide also examines the pros and cons of each approach, so voters come to acknowledge that any solution will require sacrifices or drawbacks and decide which tradeoffs they are willing to accept.

The guide is part of Public Agenda's Citizens' Guide Series, which helps change the conversation on some of our more pressing public issues. The series gets voters past an either/or, polarized frame of thinking to start focusing on practical solutions. 

Click here to access Public Agenda’s Energy: A Citizens' Solutions Guide (pdf)

This article was originally published on PennEnergy and was republished with permission.

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