Former Director of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library
Jay Hakes [00:00:05] Carter when he gave his big energy speech in April of 1977, called this challenge the moral equivalent of war. A lot of people have written books describing that era as a failure. And this is not to say that everything was done perfectly, but there really were a lot of areas where we moved ahead.
Bill Loveless [00:00:25] The 1970s were known for polyester suits, bellbottom jeans and a famous cardigan. When President Jimmy Carter addressed the nation in 1977. He asked Americans to conserve energy. The country was in a crisis. The oil embargo of 1973 sent energy prices soaring and the impacts rippled through the economy. When President Carter took office four years later, energy security was a top issue that he was determined to tackle. He stressed conservation, efficiency and domestic technologies to reduce dependance on foreign oil. The Carter administration supported energy legislation that created incentives for renewables and coal and banned new power plants from using gas or oil. Carter also put a solar hot water system on the White House in the wake of the 1978 oil shock. Some of these policies have had a lasting effect, and some drew plenty of criticism and were ultimately repealed. So what is President Carter’s legacy in energy policy and how do the lessons of the 1970s help address energy challenges today? This is Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. I’m Bill Loveless. Today on the show. Jay Hakes. Jay is a well-known scholar and author on U.S. energy policy from 2000 to 2013. He served as the director of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. The library maintains extensive records of the Carter presidency, as well as other materials related to the life of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. Jay served in both the Obama administration and the Clinton administration. He is the author of the book Energy Crises Nixon, Ford, Carter and the Hard Choices in the 1970s, with President Carter’s legacy in the national spotlight. Now it’s important to unravel his impact on energy policy. So I talked with Jay about the energy crisis that shaped Jimmy Carter’s presidency and his struggle to balance energy security and environmental protection. We also discussed the various policies this administration enacted and what worked and what didn’t. I hope you enjoy our conversation. Jake’s welcome back to Columbia Energy Exchange.
Jay Hakes [00:02:57] Thanks, Bill. Really? Sure. I’m going to enjoy it.
Bill Loveless [00:03:00] Yeah, I know. I will, too. It’s a timely conversation for us. So many people are talking about Jimmy Carter these days, his legacy, all the work he did as president and, of course, all he has done and accomplished since leaving the White House back, you know, in 1981. But we’re interested in the energy legacy and the thought being what’s past is Prolog. And it’s important to consider the past and understanding today. But first, tell us about your long association with President Carter, your relationship with him, and including the time you spent with him as director of the Carter Presidential Library.
Jay Hakes [00:03:42] Well, it started back in 1975. I was a professor at the University of New Orleans, and I had sort of dabbled in presidential elections before, and he somehow had found out about that. And he arranged for me to drive him from Baton Rouge to New Orleans so we could talk privately. Jody Powell, ideas, press secretary, wrote in the car behind. I organized a little meeting for them, and that evolved into me running his campaign, Louisiana. And we we carried it in November. I did go up and work in the administration, including time at the Interior Department, a little bit at the White House and and then ran Florida during his campaign in 1980. So that was a big, crucial race. So I did get a chance to talk to him from time to time about that. And then I went off and worked for other people, mainly Bob Graham and Bill Clinton. But then I took over as the director of the Carter Presidential Library in 2000. And during that 13 year period, I was there. I had frequent interaction with him and we talked a lot about energy and we redesigned the museum, which I highly recommend people have visiting if they’re anywhere near Atlanta and and talked about how he felt about what he’d accomplished and energy and frankly, other areas, too. And we remained pretty close. I was, you know, at the 75th wedding anniversary of his and Rosalynn, which was a very special occasion in Plains. So, you know, I’ve had a chance to see him and he knows me well. And both of us are very interested in energy.
Bill Loveless [00:05:29] He was certainly a person who learned the Navy went to the academy, right? Yes. The Naval Academy worked under a Hyman Rickover, Admiral Hyman Rickover, the father of the modern of the nuclear Navy, and was quite an engineer who was Jimmy Carter with engineer, who was quite knowledgeable about nuclear energy, as of course, he became on other forms of energy over the years. Well, energy certainly was a preeminent issue during his time as president. You write in your book Energy Crises, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Hard Choices in the 1970s that that Jimmy Carter linked his presidency closely to the issue of energy. Energy was the issue that never went away. What do you mean by that?
Jay Hakes [00:06:22] Well, he had said during the campaign that he was going to emphasize energy and that in the 1970s we had had the Arab oil embargo basically from October of 1973 to March of 1974. And that had a dramatic impact on the United States, even more than we maybe would think today, because it was so unexpected. The United States had kind of ruled the world in oil for decades. And. Along the way before the embargo, the Arab countries that started to take over the ownership of these companies and to exert themselves and to protest American policy. So he he didn’t you know, one of the things he didn’t want to have to commit military troops abroad if he didn’t have to. And it seemed like if we could become more self-reliant on energy, that that would be less necessary. Then what happened? It was quite interesting. He didn’t necessarily plan to make it his first issue, but east of the Mississippi River, it was the coldest winter in 98, 90, 90 years. So there was a shortage of heating oil and even more of natural gas. So here in the first days of his presidency, all of a sudden he’s having to face this a natural gas shortage. And so they move up the schedule and they say, well, we’re going to start talking about energy right away. So it was kind of the first issue they articulated. And, you know, Carter, when he gave his big energy speech, speech in April of 1977, called this challenge the moral equivalent of war. And incidentally, you mentioned Rickover. Rickover wrote him a note suggesting a moral equivalent of war. That’s where Carter cut the idea.
Bill Loveless [00:08:21] Yeah. And he was I mean, even before that speech in April 1977, as I recall, in February, just after he had been inaugurated, he was delivering the fireside chat from the West Wing study. What caught the attention of viewers, of course, back then was not necessarily what he said, but what he wore. Right. An unbuttoned beige wool cardigan to stay warm because the building was kind of cool.
Jay Hakes [00:08:48] Yeah. That has been somewhat misinterpreted by just about everybody. And I’ve almost given up giving my version of events. But I’ve looked at every memo that led up to that televised address, and until a day or two before it was supposed to be about the economy and actually the text of it, even as it was given, was mainly about the economy and maybe a sentence or two in energy because of this cold weather, energy kept moving up in in the in the speech and that he had decided to wear the sweater. They were kind of captivated by the idea that FDR or Franklin Roosevelt had had these radio fireside chats. And so they were trying to create the the image of that. And when they picked it, the sweater energy wasn’t actually supposed to be a major topic. So this is one of those things where there’s a perception of Bill Simon, who was Nixon’s energy czar, gave a speech in a sweater one time and about energy.
Bill Loveless [00:09:58] I don’t remember. I don’t remember reading about that sweater.
Jay Hakes [00:10:01] Yeah, well, the cardigan sweater was on display at the Carter Library for a long time. And those materials are not, you know, artifacts like that are supposed to last forever. So eventually we had to put in a replica of it. But on special occasions, you can you can bring out the original sweater.
Bill Loveless [00:10:26] And those speeches, I mean, he gave, what was it, five major speeches on energy over the course of his four year presidency.
Jay Hakes [00:10:35] Yeah. And in those days, it was, you know, televised that night on the major networks and everything was not knocked off. You know, you didn’t really have cable television back then. And for the April speech, he actually did it on back to back nights. The first speech was to the American people, and then there was one to the Congress. Can you imagine today, the networks giving a president two nights in a row knocking off commercial television. But that’s that’s the way it was in those days. And and it’s very interesting because there’s a little subtle differences in those speeches, even though they were back to back within 24 hours, because there was a lot of background struggle about what are we going to say about nuclear? And some of the people, the administration were pro-nuclear and some were anti-nuclear. And what are we going to say about natural gas? Because there was a lot of pressure to deregulate natural gas prices and other people thought that that was anti-consumer. So it’s kind of fun. I I’m sure of that speech I’ve read, I think every draft and there were several drafts a day. And just to watch this back and forth and it shows that some of these issues. Save energy are really tough. That’s one reason my book has hard choices and the title. At one point I was going to blame the book Hard Choices. But, you know, I think it’s useful for people to see that a lot of these issues are not as simple as they might have If you just have a new ideological approach to that. You know, it’s a big country. You have producing states, you have swing states, you have people more environmentally oriented. Other people are more production oriented. So presidents have to deal with those kinds of situations.
Bill Loveless [00:12:27] Right. And, you know, as I’ve gone back and looked over those speeches, you know, going through, what, 1977 to I believe the last one was in 1979, during after the second oil crisis, amid the Iran revolution. It sort of reflects all the pace of events during that rather significant era in an energy right and an energy policy, as you say, from the almost the moment he arrived in the White House until just shortly, not long before he left, he was talking about energy, even even while he was doing other things. I mean, there was the, you know, the Middle East peace pact that he negotiated. And still, even as he was doing that, he was he was working on energy issues. You know, it seems at times he was working on energy nearly as much as he was working on those that Middle East issue when when that was being negotiated at Camp David and all.
Jay Hakes [00:13:27] Well, imagine if you’re president have to dealing with this one is Camp David is viewed as one of the great successes of his presidency. And it certainly was. I was on the lawn when they signed the treaty in March. And, you know, the.
Bill Loveless [00:13:44] Recall for us who was there, we had.
Jay Hakes [00:13:46] The leaders maniacal Begin and Sadat, Anwar Sadat and and they had this great microphone. And Sadat has a wonderful voice. And they’re up there hugging and everything. You know, you think the world peace has been achieved? Well, there were a lot of people in the Middle East that didn’t like that settlement. I mean, went back and went back to Israel. He had things thrown at him by the more extreme elements. And the Palestinians were in great turmoil because they felt that their issues had not been addressed. So it actually complicated the energy situation. Then, you know, they finally get the energy bill passed after, you know, almost two years of effort.
Bill Loveless [00:14:28] This was a big a big energy bill. Yeah, yeah.
Jay Hakes [00:14:31] Package. And just about that time, the Shah of Iran was overthrown. And for a while, oil production in one of the world’s major suppliers goes down to zero. And so this complicates it. And then finally, when that works itself out, Saddam Hussein attacks Iran because he his fingers were mad at Iran and therefore, we might support his invasion of Iran, which we didn’t do. But that war went on well into the Reagan administration. And because of many good things that had been done during the Carter administration, we had reduced our oil shortage or oil demand. And so that one, we kind of handle pretty well. You know, we knew who to call in other countries to increase the supply. We weren’t consuming anywhere near as much oil as we were when Carter was was was elected. So the fact that that war is not remembered so much as an energy crisis is a reflection that actually we had done some good things to deal with the previous crisis. We never patted ourselves on the back. Just say, Yeah, we did something good here. But but so he was buffeted by all these things and that the loss of supply for from Iran, aggravated inflation. And it’s always tough for a politician to run for reelection when there’s high inflation, but it’s not good for their poll ratings. So Carter was wrestling with a lot of really tough things.
Bill Loveless [00:16:09] And of course, we had the hostage situation in 1979, perhaps the biggest setback for the president and not to mention locally. Gasoline lines returned as they had been around previously during the 1973 Arab embargo. So there was an awful lot going on and of course, a lot of it led to his his lost to Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election.
Jay Hakes [00:16:35] Yeah, I think what Reagan ended up being more a more formidable opponent than most of Carter supporters believed. And he was preaching a very anti-regulatory message. And some of that was true. Because price controls and allocation controls by the government were not helpful in the Nixon days. And Carter courageously ended some of the price controls which which actually helped. And he also natural gas didn’t affect the gasoline lines, but he also was actively controlling there. So he did things, some things that help. But Reagan was more, you know, 100% direct, deregulate. So, yeah, it was a real kind of clash of approaches. Carter was not a big sort of typical liberal Democrat. He believed in balanced budgets and deregulation when possible. But as you say, the combination of factors there that made the 1980 election very difficult.
Bill Loveless [00:17:40] And of course, we’ve mentioned generally some of these things that he worked on or he set as goals. But, you know, let’s talk about some of the rather aggressive goals for energy production and demand in the United States that he called for and as well as the policies to accomplishment which are the wants or what are some of them that stand out.
Jay Hakes [00:18:03] Well, there’s two real biggies. And let let me do oil first. He called for chopping up U.S. demand for oil and imports by billions or millions, excuse me, millions of barrels a day. And that that was very bold. It turned out we actually exceeded that goal. So that was one thing. And it was a combination of enforcing the 55 mile an hour speed limit leading to the public to they used to run ads saying don’t be foolish. They would run during the Super Bowl and all those things. You know, a long list of things made that goal a great success. The one that I think will be most remembered by historians 50 years from now will be the goals for renewable energy. And in the 1970s, the word solar and renewable energy were considered pretty much interchangeable. You know, the wind power would be possible without the sun, because you have to have differential air temperatures to have the wind blows up. Carter, in a speech in June of 1979, called for the U.S. to get 20% of its energy from renewables by the year 2000. And that was indeed a bold goal. And, you know, if you look at this from a politician standpoint, what is the incentive to invest big sums of money in something that’s going to pay off, you know, decades in the future know not only not in your first term, if you’re elected to second term, it’s not going to happen then. And Carter just had a different mentality than the economists that advised him, you know, this really isn’t cost effective. Well, you know, sort of the question, what kind of world are you leaving to your children and grandchildren? And he was aware of climate change at that time. So so that goal, if you get in 20,000, you look at or excuse me, in the year 2000, B, that goal is kind of a failure. We haven’t really, at that point increased the percentage of renewables very much at all. But if you look at the last, say, 13 years, solar is booming and he projects that most new electric capacity next year or this year, 2023 will be solar. And in 2000, I don’t think any of the most optimistic people would have felt that that was going to happen. And I think it’s really good that Carter has been able to see this happen. I actually gave a talk when they dedicated the solar farm at its place in Plains back in 2017, and he was beaming the whole day. And one of the reporters asked him that. He said, I feel vindicated now. And modestly said, oh, no. But I think he was enjoying the event and seeing how the solar paid off. And if we look back 50 years from now and say, hey, the human race did a pretty decent job of dealing with climate change or even didn’t do a terrible job, so is going to probably be the major reason that we achieved whatever success we did. And I you know, this is kind of an arbitrary number, but I would say that if Carter hadn’t done that, most of the decrease in the cost of a solar panel occurred during the four years of Carter’s presidency. Now, it didn’t bring it to market competitiveness. And there was a lot of work still to be done, but a lot was accomplished. So if he hadn’t done that, I think we’d be at least ten years behind where we are today. I think if we had kept the pedal to the metal like Carter had planned, we would could have done this be where we are today ten years ago, which would have been very helpful in dealing with climate change. So he wasn’t just putting in the money. They had a very clear mission statement in mind. And it was you take a panel, say it’s two feet by two feet. You want it to become more efficient. In other words, it produces more energy per square inch or square foot and you want the cost to come down. And so that’s pretty simple. You send the scientist into the laboratory, and this is what they do. And there’s a lot of smart people at M.I.T. and Columbia and Georgia Tech and Carnegie Mellon, Caltech. They’re all trying to do this. And if they’re given sufficient financial support and then you throw in with other countries are doing we we can do great things. And Carter had a vision of that that I think will even overshadow perhaps Camp David and other things when people look back at it.
Bill Loveless [00:23:25] Interesting. And of course, he provided the means within the government to support these things. He he the Department of Energy, was formed during his administration and components of it, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, were begun back then, all of which was important in research back then, helped in in other ways, not necessarily renewable. Right. The natural gas revolution that we’ve seen over the past 20 years in the United States, fracking elements of that go back to research done in the 19 late 1970s.
Jay Hakes [00:24:04] Yeah. Let me make one more comment on solar before I move to fracking and that the National Renewable Energy Lab, when it was founded, was named Sandy, a solar energy research institute. That was back in the days where solar meant renewables. And Dennis Hayes was appointed by Carter to to lead the effort out there eventually. And he was the guy that organized Earth Day in 1970. And so when Carter went out there, I found a comment from one of the scientists working there, and he said, you know, this is really great because universities don’t pay much attention to us. This we’re considered kind of a hippie thing. And the fact that the president would come out here to Colorado and give this speech is a big boost just psychologically to us. So that that was one to read. Now, you’re absolutely right. The George Mitchell is the great father of fracking, and he’s very clear. Some of it even goes back to the Ford administration. But if it hadn’t been for the tax breaks that were put in for what was called unconventional oil and gas, unconventional oil and gas, you got special tax incentives. And then also in areas like seismology and drilling bits and things like that, the government plays a big role because it’s expensive to develop those technologies. And it may not make sense for an individual company to do it because eventually everybody will get access to the technology. So Carter, both in funding, ironically, these big sums of money were coming from the windfall profits tax. So the oil and gas industry was furious because they didn’t want to pay the windfall windfall profits tax. But if it hadn’t been for the money from the windfall profits tax, we wouldn’t have had this early investment in fracking, which is what revolutionized American productive ability. And you know it. When I wrote my 2008 book, we were importing 60% of our oil. And these days we’re an exporter. So the fracking revolution has just been major. And a lot of people forget that Carter played a part in it.
Bill Loveless [00:26:26] Yeah, Gas, too, though, was something he worried about as substantially back during his presidency. You know, during his term there, the push was for coal. Something seems so maybe hard to believe looking back 40 some years. But the concern, the conventional wisdom, it seems at the time was we were running out of oil and natural gas and and when it came to doing things like generating electricity, a preferred alternative was coal.
Jay Hakes [00:27:00] Well, it was even more than that because we put in the Fuel Use Act, which prevented the construction of any new gas natural gas plants and called for the phasing out of the ones we had. But what we found was that with the decontrol of prices and the advances of technology, that there was a lot more gas there than we realized. And so the Fuel Use Act was eventually repealed. But it does remind us of how and it wasn’t just Carter. I mean, most of the experts at that time thought we were running out of oil and gas and and, you know, few people were right because they said, well, the price is enough of an incentive. We can dig deeper and seismology gets better. You know, we don’t drill so many dry wells these days because we don’t drill unless we mapped out the area pretty carefully. And so it’s not like in the old days of Spindle Top, you know, they, they drill here and. To drill there and hope something will hit. So it you know, it’s it shows us that attitudes change and sometimes the things that everybody assume are not necessarily correct.
Bill Loveless [00:28:15] Yeah. And policy changes, right? I mean, as you noted, the Fuel Use Act enacted by Congress, signed by Carter in the late seventies, was taken off the books some ten years or so later because people found that it it wasn’t working. Other things you mentioned, the windfall profits tax, that that went away, too over time because people found that it wasn’t having the effect. I guess it’s one way of putting it that was anticipated by its authors.
Jay Hakes [00:28:46] Yeah. And there’s another side of the coin, too. You know, Carter really preached conservation. He said, you know, it’s cheaper to conserve oil than to produce oil. And it sort of went back to his farm life in Plains that when he was growing up until he was a teenager, they didn’t have electricity, they didn’t have indoor plumbing. So they they read books with kerosene lamps. And they always said, you know, it was if you didn’t shut off your lamp when you left the room, you know, that that was terrible. So he had that kind of conservation mentality. And again, it’s easy to forget if you weren’t there and even easy to forget if you were there before. Carter and the airball embargo. Houses were not insulated like they are now. Sometimes at the time it was called weatherization or or insulation. But just think of the difference that that makes. If you take a country and all of a sudden where buildings tended not to be insulated, they were there were tax breaks to to insulate and and of course, letting the prices go up for a while. They eventually came down. But those high prices scared a lot of people. And, you know, I need to make sure I’m not wasting any energy so that the a lot of people have written books describing that era as a failure. And this is not to say that everything was done perfectly, but there really were a lot of areas where we we moved ahead. You know, we established a strategic petroleum reserve. We got our buildings insulated. We developed some new technologies in the solar area and in the fracking area that didn’t pay off for a long time. But eventually they did. The one area that didn’t get worked out was was nuclear. You know, I was on some panels in the 1980s where we recommended that they moved to smaller modular designs. And I think that made a lot of sense at the time and it makes a lot of sense today. So everybody’s talking about this today like it’s a new, new idea, but it’s been around for decades. So so nuclear is still struggling. But but the solar part of it, the oil and gas production, those those have turned out to be successes. And again, if Mitchell hadn’t had that support from government policy, I wouldn’t say it never would have happened, but it wouldn’t have happened anywhere near as fast.
Bill Loveless [00:31:16] You know, nuclear was a tough one for Carter, huh? He was, as we talked about before, he was a nuclear engineer. He believed in nuclear power. He had certainly seen the effectiveness of it in the nuclear navy, in the submarines. But it was, you know, in 1979 that Three Mile Island occurred, the accident at the nuclear plant in Pennsylvania that really, you know, shattered the public confidence, it seems, and nuclear at that time. And he struggled with that. He visited Three Mile Island, as I recall, not long after the accident, but he struggled with that. He believed on the one hand, nuclear power could be effective. But I think he was worried about the, you know, whether how safe it was on a civilian basis.
Jay Hakes [00:32:08] Not so much of the that, you know, the the containment vessel at Three Mile Island actually works. So even though there was the core meltdown, there was really no dangerous radiation after they study that that was spread to the area. He was a consistent supporter of a light water reactor and he felt like they could be saved. What he was against was reprocessing fuel, which then would make it available to being stolen or whatever, or somehow be available in other countries and aiding the making of nuclear weapons. And he also felt like the breeder reactor. There was no market for it because it was just too expensive to build at that time. And the electric companies weren’t willing to put in matching monies for it. But of course, the town of Oak Ridge in Tennessee had. Thought that there was going to be this massive expenditure of money on Howard Baker was the senior Republican. Howard Baker of Tennessee was a senior Republican, and he worked together with Carter on a lot of things, but not to reactor. So I think then Carter also wanted to explore some other new technologies and as a scientific project at the labs, he just didn’t want to spend, you know, doesn’t sound like a lot today, but a billion or $2 was a lot of money then to build this redo reactor in Tennessee. So I think his position was fairly clear. But I think the public kind of bottles that up a lot. You know, there’s nuclear. There’s not nuclear. It’s not that simple. But he did stop after Three Mile Island. There was an attempt to stop all new nuclear reactors and start shutting down old ones. And interestingly, it was Carter and Mo Udall. I don’t know if people remember him, but he was one of the big environmental Democrats in the House. He was from Arizona. He and Carter really stepped up and said, we need to keep producing nuclear. And that had a big effect. But at that, the Democratic National Convention in 1980 passed a anti-nuclear position that Carter didn’t agree with. So he was only under pressure from people within his own party to be more anti-nuclear. And, you know, but his own views were that it could be done safely. And and after Three Mile Island, a lot of people coming out of the Navy had been trained by Rickover, and they became involved in monitoring and advising of civilian nuclear plants. And I think that did an open lot on the safety side.
Bill Loveless [00:34:58] Right. I remember a lot of those Navy nukes, as we used to call them, in the DC headquarters back in the 1980s and in the 1990s. You mentioned climate change before and you said I think you said that Carter was aware of it and yet it wasn’t a it wasn’t the topic that it is today.
Jay Hakes [00:35:16] No, but as you may know, I’m working on a new book and that is how presidents deal with the climate change issue. And I’ve got four chapters on Carter, so there’s a lot to say. He he was first briefed on the issue in 1977. He was told by his science advisor that solar would probably be the ultimate solution, but probably wouldn’t be ready til, you know, the end of the 20th century or the beginning of the 21st century. And then just to give you a flavor, in 1979, there were nine major reports on climate change, and one of them was done by the Jasons, which was usually a secret group of scientists who advise the government on military issues. And Gordon MacDonald was a adjacent and very aware of very aware of the climate issue and really pushed and not only did he push the science, he started saying we need to start replacing coal with natural gas and all sorts of things. So and then the National Academy of Sciences did three studies that year because when the White House got the Jason report, they’d already had one National Science report, so they requested two more. And then the Council on Environmental Quality to Gus Speth, they introduced another one and the report’s all pretty much agreed with each other because the same scientists were working on the different projects. But so it you’re absolutely right. I always talk about zooming in and saying, we know if you’re going in and studying a president or particular year and you zoom in, you can find climate change in the 1960s. I mean, major, you know, in Lyndon Johnson issued the first big science report on the environment, Environmental Protection had a big section on climate change written mainly by Roger Revelle. And so and Nixon, the first report the Council on Environmental Quality put out had a big chapter on climate change. So it’s been around the point. One of the reasons I wrote the book is I found almost a total unawareness of of these early efforts. And it’s in one sense, it’s kind of discouraging because at some point people are going to give the human race a report card how well they did.
Bill Loveless [00:37:49] It’s interesting. It is interesting because, I mean, we really think back to when it comes to government policy on climate change to what, the 1990s and probably, you know, in the Clinton administra. Reagan came in, Al Gore made it a big a top issue for that administration, which, of course, we had the Kyoto agreement. The U.N. meetings began in those days. I think many of us are simply unaware that the extent to which any consideration was given to climate change in the certainly in the 1970s.
Jay Hakes [00:38:22] Yeah, Well, I mean, you know, a lot of people talk about Hansen’s testimony, Columbia professor in 1988 being a turning point. But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had actually been formally formed before that with the support of Ronald Reagan. And and so but I would argue we’ve done some good things for climate change over the years, like solar development, energy efficiency, a whole lot of things. Appliance efficiencies, building efficiencies, big things. But we didn’t do them primarily for climate change. We did them for other reasons. And what Obama did was mainly under the authority of the Clean Air Act, passed in 1970. And that act actually reflected a knowledge of climate change. The Clean Air Act mentions climate. And Senator Muskie, who was the chief sponsor and the Republican sponsor, both mentioned climate in their speech on the floor. I don’t know why the Supreme Court sees this as a difficult issue, but I would argue that it wasn’t until Biden that we actually did a big bill for climate change, which is different than doing something for something else that helps climate change. So, I mean, we didn’t develop fracking to help climate change, but it ended up helping shut down coal plants. So we’re we’re in an age where, again, I think looking back 50 years from now, they’ll say, oh, at that point. And of course it’s limited because in the Senate, it’s the Senate is always the big thing, because that’s where the filibuster in the Senate likes to mull around things. And so you had reconciliation so you could pass a bill with 51 senators. A lot of what you want to do about climate change, you need 60 votes. And can we ever get that? So so the Inflation Reduction Act, I think, will be seen as very historic and very high impact. A lot of things done, not the way I would like, but in the political world, no one gets exactly what they want.
Bill Loveless [00:40:34] Right. I just want to go back. You mentioned Hanson, and just for anybody who may be forgetting who he is, although that’s hard if you’ve been following this issue for any time. But James Hansen was the director of the NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies at the time, testified and raised alarms way back when. And of course, he’s now at the Columbia University Climate School, we’re happy to say. But, you know, I think thinking back and on the climate, because, you know, you’re saying that there were these reports in the late seventies, Carter was becoming aware of this phenomenon, climate change, and yet it was at a time when there were still worries that we were running out of natural gas and that coal we had to rely more on coal and coal plants were being built. I mean, how do you become more aware of it at the time? How do you think he might have responded when it came to coal, when it came to natural gas?
Jay Hakes [00:41:27] Well, I can tell you what his science advisor said. He said that these other factors like it, you know, solar are going to be available for a couple of decades, that we can take the coal, we can clean up the sulfur and we can, you know, be energy efficient, but we’re going to have to do it. And that that was the climate. But as you suggest, there’s a real tension here. You know, particularly in hindsight. But if. People. It was still not a big enough issue that you couldn’t just kind of sweep it under the rug. I mean, I have the private memos where they were talking about their strategy and they were they would talk about coal and not even talk about, you know, its impact on climate. And in those days, very few environmental organizations were involved in the climate change issue was mainly the scientists who were talking about it. And they were a lot of them were very clear. They were more anti-nuclear than they were anti-coal, and they weren’t really anti-coal if you could scrub out a lot of the pollutants. So it wasn’t only Carter that wasn’t really giving coal or raising the alarms about coal that you might expect from awareness of climate change. But it was also true of almost all the environmental organizations.
Bill Loveless [00:43:00] Right. How might how different things might have turned out with more information? I remember I interviewed the president, as you know, and back in 2011 down at the library, an interview that you helped arrange. And I always appreciated that. And I remember asking him about that. And he admitted he might have made or he would have made different decisions if he had been more aware of the dangers of climate change than people were aware of at the time. And there’s a lot to learn. And you see you do see adjustments in policy occurring.
Jay Hakes [00:43:30] Well, one thing I would point out is, you know, you can go to the Web and see every piece of paper that passed Carter’s desk on every day was president, and he annotated them and whatever. And so he’s reading three or 400 pages a day. He took speed reading courses, and he’s very diligent about doing his homework. So. You can go back and say, well, you know, in one of these 400 pages there was something about climate change and say, aha, they they knew about climate change. But you know, there’s so much going on, foreign policy, domestic policy, the economy, that you do have to cut them a little bit of slack on that. But I think you also have to be aware of some opportunities that we’ve had along the way where we did maximize them. And that’s why today we have less leeway, I think, in how we approach it.
Bill Loveless [00:44:25] Right. You know, we you mentioned the Inflation Reduction Act. And, you know, one reason I enjoy having this conversation with you is, again, we learn from the past in in fact, in your in your book, you wrote that the quote, the story of the 1970s reveals both the successes and failures in the world of energy all now can be included on a menu of tested options to be evaluated in any efforts to solve new energy challenges such as climate change. You know, at a time when the Ukraine war has triggered another energy crisis, why is this important to consider?
Jay Hakes [00:45:02] Well, I think if you look back. A lot of things don’t happen unless they’re propelled by some government policy. The government policy can be an investment in research and development, or it can be in incentives that help expand markets. And then at some point, if things start to get cost competitive, private industry comes in in a big way and they’re competing with each other for this market that’s been created by the government. And then they bring their expertise to cutting costs and supplying whatever it is to to the market. So to say that there’s some people that are pro-government, the government should do everything. And there people have said, oh, the private sector, you hear this today all the time, Oh, if it was a problem, the private sector would solve it. The historical record does not suggest that’s the case, that there is a role for government R&D. We did have a day when Bell Labs, you know, did pure research. They were the one couple phone governments, and Exxon at one time had a very large science office, but they paired that back in the 1980s. So the private sector doesn’t have the pure science techniques or power that they had during those days. So the thing is to evaluate, you know, if you have automobile efficiency standards, what is their effect on safety? Are smaller cars really more dangerous? So data suggests that data probably doesn’t suggest that much. So reasonable, you know, that the government more or less outlawed the incandescent light bulb in 2007 when George Bush, the son was president and some people thought the earth was going to pop because we wouldn’t have incandescent light anymore. Within a few weeks, Home Depot and Lowe’s had displays. Get your LED light bulbs here. So I think we have to realize that there are good government regulations and bad government regulations, good investments, bad investments, and we shouldn’t make the decision based on the ideology. We should base it on some reasonable analysis.
Bill Loveless [00:47:32] Yeah, and we can learn again, we’ll learn today from the things that worked in the past is as well as those that may not have worked quite as well. Well, Jay, thank you for joining us again on the Columbia Energy Exchange. I always enjoy these conversations with you. And by the way, I look forward to this new book that you’re working on on climate change and the policy of the government over the decades, going back much farther than many of us probably appreciate.
Jay Hakes [00:48:06] Well, thank you, Bill. I learned a lot from your question, so I always enjoy being with you.
Bill Loveless [00:48:16] That’s it for this week’s episode of Colombia Energy Exchange. Thank you again, Jay Hakes. And thank you for listening. The show is brought to you by the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. The show is hosted by Jason Bordoff and me Bill Loveless. The show is produced by Stephen Lacy and Aaron Hartig from Post-Script Media. Additional support from Daniel Prop, Natalie Volk and Kyu Lee. Sean Marquand is the sound engineer. For more information about the podcast for the Center on Global Energy Policy, visit us online at Energy Policy Dot Colombia Dot edu or follow us on social media at Columbia U. Energy. And you can read a review of the show on Apple or Spotify. You can also let us know what you think by tweeting at us. And if you really like this episode, share it with a friend or a colleague. It helps us reach more listeners like yourself. We’ll see you next week.
When President Jimmy Carter addressed the nation on April 18, 1977, the U.S. was in a crisis. The Arab oil embargo of 1973 sent energy prices soaring, and four years later, the impacts were still rippling through the economy.
In his speech, President Carter called the crisis “the moral equivalent of war” and called on Americans to conserve energy. He outlined a plan to tackle the crisis, focusing on conservation, efficiency, and domestic technologies to reduce dependence on foreign oil.
President Carter signed energy legislation that created the U.S. Department of Energy, provided incentives for renewables and coal, deregulated oil and natural gas prices, and banned new power plants from using gas or oil. Some of these policies have had a lasting effect. Others drew criticism and were ultimately repealed.
So what is President Carter’s energy policy legacy? And how do the lessons of the ’70s help address energy challenges today?
This week, host Bill Loveless talks with Jay Hakes about how the energy crisis shaped Jimmy Carter’s presidency and the policies his administration enacted.
Jay is a scholar and author on U.S. energy policy. From 2000-2013 he served as the director of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. He also served in both the Obama and Clinton administrations, including a stint as director of the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Jay is the author of the book Energy Crises: Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Hard Choices in the 1970s.
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