An ‘open’ and shut case for an enduring American energy policy: The infallibility of free markets underscores the philosophy for FuelChoiceNow

The solution to this problem is relatively simple. Instead of indulging in the perpetual debate about ethanol versus electricity versus natural gas, federal lawmakers would be better served by endorsing consumer choice. In other words, pass legislation that opens the marketplace to new alternatives and levels the playing field with oil, then let the market decide which fuels emerge and let the consumer decide whether to pump ethanol, electricity or natural gas.

This belief serves as the genesis and the philosophy that underpins FuelChoiceNow, a national advocacy campaign launched today that supports doing everything we can to promote consumer choice at the gas pump. This coalition of advanced technology leaders and global clean energy investors believes that the U.S. transportation fuel market can and should be more competitive.

Importantly, FuelChoiceNow is not seeking a Congressional product endorsement. We are seeking instead an endorsement of an open and free market. There are three major pieces to the FuelChoiceNow approach.

First, we must be honest about the problem itself. The current fuels marketplace is not open. It lacks fundamental market forces. It is highly consolidated, vertically integrated, and by virtue of OPEC, price manipulated. A non-competitive marketplace alters the implicit contract with innovators and drives new technologies and entrepreneurs elsewhere. The government objective is not to prop up new fuels, but rather to fix a broken marketplace that discourages innovation and leaves our country vulnerable to economic downturn.

Second, we have to move federal energy tax policy from the 20th to the 21st century. The U.S. taxpayer has de-risked oil investments, protected oil assets, and built oil infrastructure at tremendous cost for nearly a century, because promoting oil put us in the best position to succeed in the global economy. This is no longer true. We need to align federal tax policy with the national imperative to reduce oil dependence, create new economic opportunity, and give consumers a choice at the pump. The costs of the status quo dwarf those of promoting change.

Third, there are a number of alternatives to foreign oil that are already price-competitive, but face unnecessary infrastructural and refueling challenges that impede market access. These unnecessary market barriers, which can be mitigated at little cost, should be targeted and eliminated to promote consumer choice in the immediate term.

Critics of alternative energy often say that if these alternative fuels and technologies were truly viable, they would succeed without government support. This is true, but only in an open and competitive marketplace that rewards innovation; a market we do not have.

Assuming that the U.S. government is going through fiscal retraction, and is increasingly reluctant to throw its weight behind one alternative over another, we have two choices left. 

We can continue to rely on global oil markets to fuel our economy and way of life, and simply live with the consequences. That is what we are doing now. And it is not going well.

Or we can ask the government to throw its weight behind doing the things that are necessary to open the U.S. fuel marketplace to new alternatives, more competition and consumer choice. Maybe one or two alternative fuels step up to the plate, maybe a half dozen. Either way, the investment in opening up the marketplace to American ingenuity will pay off in spades.
Sue Hager is the Vice President of Corporate Communications and Government Affairs Qteros Inc. and Matt Horton is the CEO of Propel Fuels.


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