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The Legacy of the 1970s Energy Crisis

"Signs of the Energy Crisis," May 1973, photographed by Frank Aleksandrowicz (ARC 550088)

If you’ve ever been stuck in traffic on the Beltway, you know Americans love their cars, trucks, and motorcycles. So when fuel shortages occur, like in the 1970s, energy policy becomes a hotly debated issue.

Federal energy policy first became a major political priority during the energy crisis of the 1970s. In response to gasoline shortages and a series of petroleum embargos, Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter each took steps to readdress America’s energy policy. Through legislative action and an array of executive orders, the Federal Government established the Energy Research and Development Administration, Federal Energy Administration, and Office of Energy Programs.

This rapid expansion of Federal energy functions eventually compelled Congress to pass the Department of Energy Organization Act. The act, which was signed into law by President Carter on August 4, 1977, consolidated the various Federal energy agencies into a singule cabinet-level department. The new Department of Energy’s primary tasks were to promote a safe and dependable energy system, manage the nation’s nuclear facilities, and facilitate scientific research.

Since the 1970s, the Energy Department has continued to address energy, environmental, and nuclear challenges through research, development, and demonstration. In 2001, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy was created to assist in the development of alternative energy sources, such as biomass and biofuels, solar power, wind power, and hydrogen fuel cells. These initiatives are aimed to lessen the threat of energy crises, like the one in the 1970s.

The energy crisis in the states of Oregon and Washington resulted in attempts at humor by businesses with darkened signs such as this one in Vancouver, WA, 11/1973, photographed by David Falconer. (ARC 555422)

If you want to view more pictures of the 1970s energy crisis from the DOCUMERICA, see our DOCUMERICA Gallery or visit the DOCUMERICA collection on the U.S. National Archives’ Flickr photo stream. DOCUMERICA was a program sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency to photographically document subjects of environmental concern in America during the 1970s. The images were made by approximately 70 well-known photographers contracted by the EPA, including Danny Lyon, Gene Daniels, Marc St. Gill, and Bill Strode.

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