April 5th, 2011


Professor, School of Earth Sciences, Stanford University

Former Governor, Alaska

Director, Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, Stanford


The United States does not have a national energy policy. On Tuesday, April 5, at Climate One, three experts long involved in the US energy debate conspired to shape their own. The plan: steadily increasing the cost of gasoline at the pump, replace diesel with liquefied natural gas for heavy trucking, harvest cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities, and boost the production of shale gas.

"These are not new issues," said former Alaska Governor Tony Knowles. "Unfortunately, I think Tom Friedman said it best: ‘Our national energy policy is more the sum total of our best lobbyists, rather than our best wisdom.'"

Politics, not science or economics, has shaped our energy policy, Knowles said. "There’s no question that the early primaries in Iowa and Nevada have done more for our national energy policy than any other force," he said. "Have done more damage," Stanford University’s Jim Sweeney quickly added.

A proposal recently put forward by the California Secure Transportation Energy Partnership (CalSTEP), where Jim Sweeney is a member, would add a penny per month to the state’s gas tax for 10 years. Tony Knowles cited a similar proposal recommended by the National Energy Policy Institute, where he serves as President. It would increase the federal gas tax by $0.08 per gallon each year for 20 years with the goal of reducing oil consumption by 1.5 million barrels per day. 

Knowles and T.J. Glauthier, a former Deputy Secretary at the US Department of Energy, advocated for retrofitting the country’s heavy trucking fleet to run on domestic liquefied natural gas (LNG). Commercial trucking consumes 2 million barrels of oil per day in diesel equivalent, Knowles said, about 12 percent of US oil consumption. Glauthier said the federal government could step in and help convert the infrastructure for LNG. 

"We’ve got truck stops all over the country. If we spent some money helping build out the natural gas refueling parts of those truck stops, and provide some help to trucking companies for the conversions, there’s a huge benefit," said Glauthier. 

Jim Sweeney, Director of Stanford’s Precourt Energy Efficiency Center (PEEC), emphasized the abundant opportunity that exists for consumers to save money with energy efficiency improvements. We just have to get the incentives right. 

"People talk about those as the 'low-hanging fruit.' Unfortunately, some of that fruit has been low-hanging for decades now and hasn't been picked, which means there's a reason," he said.

Knowles and Glauthier also recommended that shale gas be a part of the energy mix. Knowles cautioned that some areas, such as the Catskills watershed in New York state, should be off-limits for shale gas development, but, with proper oversight, it's a ubiquitous resource that should be tapped. "It’s great for the American public, it’s great for the energy sector, to have natural gas supplies that are much larger, and they’re all domestic," said Glauthier. 


– Justin Gerdes
April 5, 2011
Photos by Ed Ritger
The Commonwealth Club of California