A year after warning America of its addiction to oil, President Bush is expected to renew concerns about energy security in his State of the Union address.
Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman says the administration over the years has spent nearly $12 billion in developing new energy technologies. He cited the president’s $2.1 billion “advanced energy initiative” in the State of the Union a year ago.
The powers of the federal government are limited to only those specifically delegated to it by the Constitution. Those powers, under any circumstance, can not be expanded constitutionally by the government, no matter how worthy the cause.
Like police powers, most energy authority is based in the states.
As the Supreme Court recently affirmed in United States vs. Lopez, the Constitution establishes a federal government of enumerated, and thus, limited powers.
Nowhere in the Constitution is the federal government authorized to “achieve energy efficiency or diversity.” Other than the specific power of the federal government over federal territory, any power in those locations to regulate environmental affairs belongs to the states, as the 10th Amendment makes clear.
An accurate reading of the Constitution, therefore, brings much of the Department of Energy’s authority into doubt. Arguments based on the General Welfare clause to justify its actions are quite unfounded.
The General Welfare clause is not properly defined as allowing the federal government to do anything it wants to as long as Congress and the President thinks it’s for a common “good.” If this was the case, the founders wouldn’t have wasted their time writing the Constitution with a list of specifically enumerated powers in the first place!
As many of the founding fathers made quite clear, the General Welfare Clause was meant to confine the exercise of enumerated powers in the Constitution. It was not meant to be, of itself, the source for unlimited power for the government to care for the “common good.”
Consider these statements:
“Our tenet ever was… that Congress had not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but were restrained to those specifically enumerated, and that, as it was never meant that they should provide for that welfare but by the exercise of the enumerated powers, so it could not have been meant they should raise money for purposes which the enumeration did not place under their action; consequently, that the specification of powers is a limitation of the purposes for which they may raise money.”
“With respect to the two words “general welfare,” I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.”
As for oil, and energy “policy” in general, the President’s proposals are absurd. Central planners in the DOE are to tell us what technologies are best for the nation, have the greatest promise, etc. Then, they start spending taxpayers’ money to determine if they can do a better job than markets in developing alternatives to oil. Our continued dependence on oil, coal, and the like, should make it quite clear that such central planning has done nothing more than prevent new technologies from emerging and becoming viable.
If the central government would’ve followed the 10th Amendment, and kept its hands out of energy decades ago, we might be in a much better situation than we are today.