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Losing the Energy Debate

Jun 23, 2010
Author: SCP Editor

Depressing – that is about what comes to mind when one thinks about the deconstruction of Obama’s once impressive Energy Plan. 2009 started out with a bang and expectations were high that Democrats in Congress might leverage their majority, spurred by Obama, to get an Energy Bill enacted in Obama’s freshman year. But then Obama embraced the healthcare debate and energy took a back seat. By the time all was said and done, a weaker healthcare plan was passed, and as Obama made his first State of the Union Address, he was conceding ground, now backing offshore oil drilling, clean coal and promising more support for nuclear.

All the while, opponents to an energy bill promising commitments for alt energy, clean tech and putting a price tag on pollution have gained ground, promising to thwart any version of a bill that threatened higher energy prices and American jobs. After all, that is how they have framed the debate, while Obama and other advocates have stood by letting them have it their way.

At this point, it looks less likely that any energy bill is going to make it. Not even the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, which should be an indictment on offshore oil drilling, and make us all think twice about mountain top mining as well as nuclear storage issues, has buoyed Obama et. al.’s agenda. Clearly, Obama is feeling the pressure.

This week, reports surfaced that Obama is making another concession. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has gone on record signaling that the Obama administration will now propose caps on the utility sector this week, and utilities only – never mind other polluters. The thinking here is that this would give an energy bill a better chance to get through a more-partisan-than-ever Congress. Did we say this is depressing? With this much of a lack of conviction, why should opponents agree to even a utility-only cap? Why not hold out for no caps at all?

Meanwhile, a federal judge in the U.S. Eastern District Court of Louisiana struck down the Obama administration's six-month ban on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico as rash and heavy-handed Tuesday, saying the government simply assumed that because one rig exploded, the others pose an imminent danger, too. If the Obama administration had its act together, it would have made a better case.

It gets worse. In California, which is generally speaking a proxy for where clean energy legislation is heading across the nation, the oil industry-backed measure to suspend AB 32, which sets a limit on GHGs from automobiles, oil, refineries and other industry, requiring up to a third of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020 and would drive increased sales of fuel-efficient cars,, has qualified for the November ballot.

On the oil industry’s side – Meg Whitman – who is gaining momentum politically in the race to California’s governorship. On the side of AB 32, and the advocacy to reduce emissions, is Governor Schwarzenegger,  who is on his way out under heavy criticism over the state of fiscal disrepair in California.

Opponents to AB 32 have smartly positioned the legislation as being anti-jobs, and as a ‘tax’ on energy which will make life harder on consumers, or at least more expensive. This is a mirror image of the debate being held on the national level, and as with that debate, supporters of AB 32 are totally failing to show the costs of higher emissions and effectively counter the argument that reducing emissions will result in job losses. Did we mention this is all depressing?


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