U.S. Energy Policy During the 1990’s

Paul L. Joskow


This essay discusses U.S. energy policy and the associated evolution of energy supply, energy demand, energy prices and the industrial organization of the domestic energy industries during the period 1991 through 2000. This period covers the last two years of the George H. W. Bush administration and the entire Clinton administration. It begins with an “energy crisis” stimulated by the invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent Gulf War and ends with an “energy crisis” caused by significant increases in oil and, especially, natural gas prices, the collapse of California’s new competitive electricity markets and the threat of electricity shortages throughout the Western U.S. Both “energy crises” led the sitting Presidents’ administrations to develop national energy strategies and to try to convince Congress to enact comprehensive energy legislation to implement them. Neither “energy crisis” had the severe economic impact or led to the kinds of dramatic, and often ill-conceived, policy responses observed following the two oil shocks of the 1970s. The 1990-91 “energy crisis” was short-lived and interest in energy policy soon faded. It would not be surprising if the latest “energy crisis” follows a similar course.