The Washington Post asks: “What does it mean for a nation to be energy independent? Is it realistic and if so how should that be achieved?”

Energy Independence is a mixed bag — both good and bad energy policy ideas are promoted under its banner. The bad outweighs the good, and in any event energy independence shouldn’t supplant free markets as the overarching principle for sound energy policy.

Among the few good ideas spurred by the desire to achieve energy independence is expanding domestic energy production. As it is, the great majority of energy-rich federal lands and offshore areas have not been leased for oil exploration and drilling. The President has recently paid lip service to expanded access, but in reality his Department of the Interior spent its first year rolling out an unprecedented crackdown on energy leasing. Granted, increased domestic drilling will not end oil imports, but it would lead to greater supplies of oil and lower prices as well as thousands of new energy industry jobs. It is well worth pursuing for those reasons.

Among the bad energy independence ideas is the mandate for domestic renewable fuels, chiefly corn-based ethanol. Thanks to a Bush-era law, 12 billion gallons of it must be added to the gasoline supply in 2010. Ethanol raises the cost of driving – which is why proponents needed a law forcing the rest of us to use it – and the diversion of nearly a third of the corn crop from food to fuel use has raised food prices as well. The real losers are American consumers, not the Saudi oil sheikhs, Iran’s regime, or Hugo Chavez.

Perhaps worst of all is costly global warming policy. Cap and trade and other measures were not selling as environmental policy — the public has shown little concern about global warming – so they have been repackaged by supporters as energy independence policy (as well as jobs policy, hence all the green jobs rhetoric). It may make for an improved sales pitch but it doesn’t add up. The main target of global warming legislation is coal, the one energy source America has in overwhelming abundance. Oil imports would not be reduced very much, but U.S. electric rates would, in the words of President Obama, “necessarily skyrocket.”

Most of the energy independence agenda is a policy boomerang – it is supposed to hurt the oil rich enemies of America but ends up hurting Americans instead. There are better ways of dealing with such regimes – and certainly better ways of meeting our nation’s energy needs.

Cross-posted at The Washington Post’s Planet Panel.