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U.S. Leadership Stumbles Again: Obama Says New Energy Policy Unfeasible

Nathanael Baker's picture
EnergyBoom Media Inc.

Nathanael Baker is the Managing Editor of EnergyBoom. He has been immersed in the areas of renewable energy and climate change for two years. Before joining EnergyBoom, Nathanael was the Director...

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  • Nov 5, 2010

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A day after his party endured a “shellacking” in midterm elections, U.S. President Barack Obama said passing new comprehensive energy policy was no longer a short-term possibility.

Standing humbled as he addressed a packed-room of reporters, President Obama said Tuesday night’s election results illustrated that the American people want to see Republicans and Democrats working together to move the country forward; this is something he vowed to do on all issues, including energy.

In his address, the President said he didn’t think there was anyone in America who believes national energy policy is working the way it needs to and that greater energy independence is needed.  This, Obama said, gives Republicans and Democrats an opportunity to come together and discuss how to move forward on the energy agenda.

The President acknowledged that working with Republicans will require compromise — the Republican party lobbied staunchly against the energy bills that were passed in the House of Representatives and proposed in the Senate last year.  In particular they chastised the government’s advocacy of a cap-and-trade policy for greenhouse gas emissions. 

One of these compromises includes shelving the administration’s intention of passing an energy bill this year.  The president said, “It’s doubtful you could get the votes to pass that through the House this year or next year or the year after.” He further added, “On energy issues we’re probably going to have to say here are some issues where there’s just too much disagreement to get this done right now.  But let’s not wait, let’s start making progress on the areas we agree on.”

So, what areas in the energy discourse do Democrats and Republicans agree on?  Where can progress on energy policy be made?  The President outlined three areas:

  1. Natural Gas – It is agreed this is a plentiful American resource that has largely been untapped.
  2. Developing Electric Vehicles – It is agreed these vehicles need to be developed and manufactured in America.
  3. Nuclear Power – It is agreed this is a resource can reduce dependence on foreign oil and greenhouse gas emissions.

Are these areas capable of promoting bi-partisan partnership? Most definitely.  Are they areas of development which will push the United States to the forefront of the emerging renewable energy and cleantech industries?  Probably not. 

There is no mention of developing the country’s manufacturing of clean technologies such as wind turbines or solar cells; no mention of developing a renewable energy standard; no mention of capping emissions; and no mention of creating structures to attract investment in clean technologies.  Promoting natural gas and nuclear energy is not the progressive agenda that will enable the United States to compete with China for leadership in the new energy economy.

Tuesday night’s election results appear to represent not only a shellacking for the Democrats, but also a shellacking for clean energy.  Considering the majority of Republicans in the House and the Senate believe there is no scientific evidence showing anthropogenic global warming is real, it will be tough to sell the development of low emission technologies like solar or wind power instead of coal or natural gas.

While the United States continues to fumble opportunities to lead the paradigm shift away from a fossil fuel-based economy, the rest of the world refuses to wait, and may soon be turning its eyes to a new global leader.


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Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Nov 4, 2010

Your outline and concerns are well presented. But as an older advocate, please consider the opportunity. Politics is a distraction, not a solution.

I came out of the VietNam era and bounced into a long recession. The Shah fell in Iran, the Soviets were split seconds from nuclear war at the iron curtain. US industry was in trouble and there were oil embargoes. Your generation has never seen hardship. My generation learned from a generation that saw real hardship.

Today the world is in competition for better energy solutions. Regardless of what the politicians say, there isn’t an industrialist in the US who is ignoring this fact. The independent voter elected Dems last time, Reps this time, and probably Dems next time.

I have put quite a number of energy concepts on the board here. As a scientist, the trick is feeding the wolves without getting eaten.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 7, 2010

“…it will be tough to sell the development of low emission technologies like solar or wind power instead of coal or natural gas.”

Don’t forget that we already had strong incentives in place for wind and solar: 2 cents per kWh for wind (through 2012) and 30% investment tax credit for solar.  There are some financial crises related incentives that expire soon, but those should not be necessary for long term growth. 

The EPA is also working on tighter fleet MPG requirements, including light trucks for the first time.

Energy efficiency improvements can already provide big savings in many areas.

No plausible price on carbon could do more than these incentives.  I’m just not convinced that a climate bill could have done much more.  Natural gas, electric cars, and nuclear power sound like a reasonable next move to me.

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