Obama Calls For Clean Energy Transition, For Specifics Read Between The Lines

Those who expected policy specifics from Obama haven't been paying attention to how he governs

On the eve of day 57 of the BP oil spill, President Obama once again called for the country to wean itself from its “addiction to fossil fuels” in favor of renewable energy. But the President disappointed many in the environmental community with his lack of specifics.

“Lots of soaring rhetoric about clean energy, but no concrete details. NO ENERGY BILL TALK,” tweeted Huffington Post Green Editor Katherine Goldstein.

The address was actually pure Obama and those who expected something else haven’t been paying attention to the way he governs. Just as when the health bill passed, he has provided a general outline of what he wants and asked Congress to work out the details.

Perhaps we’ve also gotten a bit greedy and lost perspective: when was the last time a president devoted a whole televised address to the environment?

And a close read of the address actually illuminates the sort of green energy plan Obama would like to sign into law.

He said:

Now, there are costs associated with this transition. And some believe we can’t afford those costs right now. I say we can’t afford not to change how we produce and use energy – because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security, and our environment are far greater.

No, Obama did not mention the Kerry – Lieberman American Power Act in his address. But “costs” sounds a lot like a price on carbon, often derided by opponents as a back-door tax and as an added business cost.

More specifics:

I’m happy to look at ideas or approaches from either party — as long as they seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels. Some have suggested raising efficiency standards in our buildings like we did in our cars and trucks. Some believe we should set standards to ensure that more of our electricity comes from wind and solar power.

The president is pushing for higher fuel efficiency standards (a controversial idea, at least before the BP spill) and his mention of wind and solar-powered electricity probably refers to a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES).  Various forms of that renewable mandate — which key industry groups like the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) — are being discussed in Congress.

And as always with Obama he called for a touch of bi-partisanship, again disappointing environmentalists who don’t see any accommodation with Republicans. Obama said he would be happy “to look at other ideas and approaches from either party – as long they seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels.”

To recap: while failing to mention climate change, Kerry-Lieberman or concrete details on how he planed to transition out of fossil fuels, Obama’s speech did provide some hints as to the energy policy he wants to sign into law.

He wants a policy that prices carbon, includes a push for greater energy efficiency and some sort of federal mandate for more wind and solar-powered electricity.

Obama warned that he “we can’t afford to not change how we use energy now.”

He’s leaving it to lawmakers to execute his vision. Let’s hope they do.

White House photo: Pete Souza

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