Carter's Energy Insecurity: The Political Economy of Coal in the 1970s

Michael Camp
2014 Journal of Policy History  
Upon taking offi ce in 1977, President Jimmy Carter made energy a major public policy issue, pushing for the creation of a cabinet-level Energy Department. Still pondering the shock of the 1973 OPEC embargo and subsequent oil crisis, Carter sought to put the United States on a fi rmer long-term energy footing by reducing its dependence on OPEC oil. One of Carter's main emphases was conservation, and he created a complex system of tax credits and deductions to encourage Americans to use less
more » ... ans to use less energy. However, recognizing that Americans would not drastically change daily consumption patterns overnight, his plans also included encouragement of domestic energy production in order to further decrease the nation's reliance on foreign sources. One of the main components of the energy security plan was to encourage oil-fueled American electrical utilities to convert their equipment to burn coal instead, which the United States could produce domestically in abundance. This seemingly reasonable strategy proved highly difficult to execute successfully, since the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) strike in winter 1977-78 greatly impacted Carter's plans. A closer examination of this strike demonstrates that some of the problems Carter encountered in implementing his energy plan were tied to the inability to align the confl icting interests embedded within signifi cant energy policy changes. A new labor contract proposed by coal employers would have slowed the growth of workers' wages over the coming years and (more important) would have also curbed the union's right to strike in the future. More than a hundred thousand miners walked off the job to protest the contract's objectionable provisions. Th ough initially reticent to intervene
doi:10.1017/s0898030614000220 fatcat:rkxcpropdzdxbkbe42hx3a2lhu