In the mid-1970s, changing world events brought about general agreement in the U.S. that an expanded federal role in energy decision making was needed. Though consensus was lacking on the goals of national policy, it was agreed more incentives were needed for energy conservation and production. The federal government moved into energy policy, as it had expanded into other policy arenas in the previous decades. But as with other areas of policy, tight federal control of local activities sometimes led to widespread disenchantment with federal policy. Probably the worst instance was the 1979 gasoline shortage, when federal allocation plans were accused of making matters worse. There was the sense that private, state, or local decisions might have been more effective and more appropriate than federal control.
In this context, the connection of local control to the adaptability of the national energy system feeds into recent calls from across the political spectrum for more local control and for less outside interference. While local control seems desirable as an ideal, we do not wish to make a general endorsement of an unspecified principle of local control: the ability of local groups to manage energy remains largely unknown (see Chapter 7). Also, there may be fairly serious limits to the range of energy options local groups can pursue, especially in the absence of sources of outside expertise, money, and ideas. More experience making local energy management work is needed before major responsibility for energy adaptability can be delegated to local institutions.
To increase the adaptability of the national energy system by emphasizing local control requires the development of new relationships between the federal and local levels. It may be useful for national policy makers to think of themselves as facilitating the operation of somewhat self-regulating social systems, rather than as planning or controlling energy activities throughout the nation. The notion of federal support for systems of communication among localities is one of several examples of such thinking. It may also be useful to think of policies embodying new federal/local relationships as experimental trials in the sense that while they may not succeed at first, they may evolve through a learning process toward a relationship in which both local and national levels contribute, with net benefits both for local control and national flexibility. If this happens, effective partnerships will evolve through a political process in which both local and national interests are represented.
Many of the conclusions reached in this report are rather general, at least compared with what is needed to draft a detailed piece of legislation or a government regulation. This may be frustrating to a reader wishing to develop or modify specific programs based on some of the ideas in this