Energy Policy and the Obama Administration: Some Choices and Challenges

By Holden, Matthew | Energy Law Journal, July 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Energy Policy and the Obama Administration: Some Choices and Challenges


Holden, Matthew, Energy Law Journal


I appreciate the invitation from my colleagues at Jackson State University and at Mississippi State University. These two universities will perform a valuable service to Mississippians, and to the whole country, if they contribute to broad public discussion of some of the energy policy choices and struggles that are to be expected around this new Administration. I count it a particular privilege to appear before you all, and hope that some of my reflections may make a contribution.

Before I get to my main theme, I would offer a foreword on the stimulus and the Department of Energy.

I. A FOREWARD ON THE STIMULUS AND ENERGY POLICY

A week ago today, the President spoke at Georgetown University in Washington, D. C. Among other things, he referred to the stimulus legislation and said

[t]he investments we made in the Recovery Act will double this nation's supply of renewable energy in the next three years. And we are putting Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions on our energy bills and grow our economy at the same time.

Under the legislation, the Department of Energy is responsible for spending $16.8 billion classified as follows: Weatherization ($5.0 billion), State Energy Program ($3.1 billion), Advanced Batteries Manufacturing ($2.0 billion), and Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy ($6.7 billion). Another $16 billion is classified as Environmental Management ($6.0 billion), Smart Grid and related programs ($4.5 billion), Fossil Energy R&D ($3.4 billion), Science ($1.6 billion), and APRA-E ($0.4 billion).

While the stimulus bill provides a glimpse into the Administration's overall plan, there are many components of Energy Policy for the next four years. It is important to focus on: (1) a summary of the President's energy program as it has been outlined so far; (2) the President' energy leadership team; (3) where the President's program is notably different; and (4) five issues where the political struggles may occur and political adjustments will have to be made, defeats encountered, or victories achieved.

II. THE OBAMA ENERGY POLICY IN SUMMARY

In the remarks as prepared for delivery at Georgetown University, the President said:

[t]he third pillar of this new foundation is to harness the renewable energy that can create millions of new jobs and new industries. We all know that that the country that harnesses this energy will lead the 21st century. Yet we have allowed other countries to outpace us on this race to the future.2

It is not altogether clear which countries and what market-successful technologies the President refers to, so far as energy is concerned, though the German example in pushing wind energy may be one case. I have not studied the world-wide approach to solar energy, but I do take note of a recent article in Oil & Gas Journal. Saudi efforts on solar are also noted, with the expectation that by 2020, "solar thermal-produced power will be competitive with traditional fossil fuels."3

But the President's tone was clear.

"I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders. It is time for America to lead again."4

The President took an unequivocal position that seems to show where his energy program will begin:

[t]he only way to truly spark this transfonnation is through a gradual, market-based cap on carbon pollution, so that clean energy is the profitable kind of energy. . . . We can no longer delay putting a framework for a clean energy economy in place. That's how we can grow this economy, enhance our security, and protect our planet at the same time.

III. PRESIDENT OBAMA'S ENERGY LEADERSHIP TEAM

The White House has lined up to play a key role, as evidenced by the appointment of an Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change. That is Ms. Carol Browner, who used to be Administrator of the Environmental Protection Administration. …

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