To convert the United States from a net energy importer to a net energy exporter has been the elusive goal of every president since Richard Nixon -- and it's the stated goal of presidential candidate Mitt Romney, as well. Even should the United States attain that goal, though, we wouldn't be "energy independent." The Wall Street Journal editorial board puts the point succinctly:
"Independence"—the proper term for a closed economy that doesn't trade in energy would be autarky—is a mirage.
As long as we trade in energy, in other words, the price of our energy will be dependent on global market forces. Furthermore, the WSJ board suggests, the term "energy independence" encourages rent-seeking, as energy producers excuse their pleas for corporate welfare with promises to render the U.S. more "energy independent."
If not "energy independence," then, what shorthand should we use to identify the policy prescription of more domestic energy production and less reliance on foreign sources? The board seems to prefer "energy security":
The dividends are paid in more energy security: a durable and reliable world market that can meet demand through competitive prices.
That term, though, is equally fraught with political peril, according to Heritage Foundation national security expert James Carafano.
"People think in terms of 'energy security' and that's actually the wrong framework because when you say anything with 'security' it leads you to think of statist solutions," Carafano told me in a green room interview at our National Policy Summit on Energy and Federalism. "With energy policy, that's actually not the direction we want to go. We really want to have an open market."
I took that to mean this: What ordinary citizens might not be willing to give up just to be "energy independent" (i.e. a free market that allows nonviable business propositions to fail), we might be willing to give up for "energy security." If the term "energy independence" encourages rent-seeking by corporations, "energy security" encourages ordinary Americans to perceive that rent-seeking as imperative for national safety.
Maybe the answer is to use no shorthand at all, but, instead, to patiently explain the importance of a free economy to the production of reliable and affordable energy -- and to explain the importance of reliable and affordable energy to the growth of the economy and the provision of adequate national defense.
In our interview, Carafano went on to do just that:
"We want a strong energy economy in the United States because that's going to make our economy strong and vibrant and that's going to allow us to pay for the security that we need to defend ourselves. ... It's really the role of the military and our national security apparatus to keep the commons open, the sea lanes, the ability to use the air, the ability to use cybersecurity because that allows the market to work, so there's this very symbiotic relationship, a strong, vibrant economy and the [ability] to defend the freedom of that market to operate. That's what really makes the United States the country it needs to be in the twenty-first century."
Unfortunately, Carafano explains, that's not where we are today. Watch the video to catch his take on this president's energy policy and what kind of leadership we need on this issue in the future: