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Energy Use: The Human Dimension
ommend all “cost-effective” energy measures but one—householders were not to be advised to switch to less expensive fuels. That information had proved to be too politically sensitive.3 When the Reagan Administration came to power in 1981, pressure for deregulation from the utility industry led to new regulations that further reduced the list of recommended conservation actions.4 Similarly, the official position on whether rail transportation is, in fact, more energy efficient or less energy efficient than automobile transportation changed when the administration changed.5
We do not mean to suggest that the federal government has no credible energy information to offer. On the contrary, several federal agencies are highly credible sources of certain kinds of energy information. The Energy Information Administration is the best source of information on current patterns of energy use in both residential and commercial buildings, and the Census Bureau collects credible information on fuels used in residences and the distances people travel to work. Such information is obviously essential for major policy decisions affecting energy use.
The conflicts in government go beyond information; they are embodied in policy—and news about policy becomes part of the information available to energy users. In transportation, for example, the federal government has set standards for the fuel efficiency of new cars, yet it offered financial support for Chrysler Corporation, a company that was in trouble partly because of its failure to produce fuel-efficient cars. The government also fought hard for the agreement to limit imports of relatively fuel-efficient cars from Japan. Similarly, Amtrak advertises the fuel efficiency of rail transport, yet the government has cut back its rail subsidies, and supports highway programs. At the municipal level, budget constraints limit support of energy-efficient public transit systems.
We are not concluding that any of these policies were wrong or misguided; conflicting priorities are inevitable in a complex government. But it is important to be aware that such decisions produce profound, if unintended, effects on perceptions, attitudes, and behavior of energy users by implying that government officials do not take energy efficiency very seriously—beyond making public pronouncements.
How are energy users to know which agency experts to believe or which policy best promotes their own interests or local or national needs? Could the problem of inconsistency be solved by forcing government officials to promote a common view? We think not. Even if government could be internally consistent, private parties could and would dissent. There is adequate expert opinion available on different sides of the energy issue to confuse most energy users. And with the powerful interests that are involved in the energy debate, the conflicting opinions will be broadcast: if government does not discredit itself, others will. It is safe to assume that individuals and organizations will continue to receive conflicting information on how to get their energy services most economically. Energy