opinion

OPINION: Nationalize the energy sector



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The corporate democracy, which is the United States, has been under the control of a very small group of private corporations for far too long.

Oil, gas, coal, electricity and water are all controlled by a small oligopoly of privately-owned companies, many of whom have such a firm grasp on regional markets where they near a monopoly, especially when it comes to water and electricity.

Public necessities such as electricity and water should not be for-profit. Neither should be the corrupt fossil fuel industry which consistently puts public safety at risk through resisting climate change reform by sowing doubt in the public discourse.

The incentive structure of the privately owned fossil fuel industry encourages promoting phony “research” which denies climate change. They also incessantly lobby congress and donate campaign contributions to politicians to block climate change reform or halt the debate on the issue by giving off the perception that climate change evidence is inconclusive.

Americans need to tackle the climate crisis immediately and the most effective way is to democratically restructure the energy sector of the economy as public utilities, so Americans are no longer at the behest of corporate oligarchs.

There are several ways the U.S. government could go about gaining control over these industries, but one of the most effective would be through quantitative easing. This includes compulsorily buying the majority stake in America’s top energy companies.

Writers at The Democracy Collaborative estimated a $1.15 trillion price tag of buying the majority stake in the 25 largest US-based publicly traded oil and gas companies, along with most of the remaining publicly traded coal companies.

Control over the shares could go to a social energy fund which fights for compliance with decarbonization goals and promotes publicly owned renewable energy firms. Full energy nationalization is the goal but due to the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause, private property cannot be taken for public use without just compensation.

However, economists by and large agree the nationalization of energy companies does not have any direct effect on the government’s balance sheet due to the acquisition of public assets.

The energy transition would provide a stopgap until the public energy sector begins to pay dividends, no longer forcing the government to use subsidies and tax incentives for large fossil fuel companies. 

The most important aspect of nationalizing the energy sector is going to be democratically restructuring the system so it is under the control of workers and not simply top-down through authoritative government mandates — a government which is also largely bought and owned by large energy and fossil fuel companies.

Nationalization of energy companies would entail workers democratically electing supervisors and determining safety and working conditions. A national oversight board comprised of representatives of regional energy committees as well as workers in other industries affected by energy policy would oversee directing and enforcing regulation of environmentally safe policies that promote a new green energy sector. 

There would certainly be job loss in the fossil fuel industry as the country begins decarbonizing, but union-run retraining for green energy jobs coupled with support from the welfare state for those whose jobs have been displaced will provide the most support for a smooth transition to renewable energy. 

Democratic control over the entire energy sector may have a hefty price tag, but it would certainly be worth doing so, because the cost of ignoring climate change could be far more devastating and costly.

Privatization of natural resources and energy production has only proven to be a direct obstacle to climate change reform and is fundamentally anti-consumer through the near monopolization of the marketplace.

Without immediate action on taking down the private energy behemoths, our country may make little to no effort on climate change reform, which will have deadly consequences.

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