James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

Obama’s clean energy pivot goes awry

Jun 16, 2010 17:51 UTC

Imagine if your local fireman started lecturing you on fire safety and the need for more research into advanced flame-retardant materials while your house was engulfed in flames. (“Dude, shut up and save my dog!”)

I mean, maybe Barack Obama’s Oval Office address would have been an effective energy speech had the Gulf gusher already been capped. But the oil is still flowing. And until it stops, shifting from the BP spill to the broader White House energy agenda seems an awkward political and policy pivot. The whole thing had an air of unreality to it.

Obama tried to cleverly argue that the spill is less like a natural disaster than it is an epidemic. One does its damage in minutes, the other in months or years. So not only must America be patient, but it is also entirely appropriate to use the oily mess in the Gulf as a catalyst to quicken America’s long-term shift away from fossil fuels.

But an appeal to focus on the future sure seems like a hard sell to an American public watching damage estimates rise daily. A government panel announced the same day as Obama’s speech that it thinks as many as 60,000 barrels a day are flowing into the Gulf. That’s double last week’s projection and way above the original guess of 5,000.

But in his speech, Obama could offer no new hope for a quick end to the crisis, only plans for cleanup (including how BP will pay) and prevention — and a potential clean energy future. But the president’s green dreams may turn into a nightmare if Republicans smash the Democrats in the November congressional elections. And the spill is making such a rout ever more likely by slowly eroding the president’s popularity.

But Team Obama and his Democrat allies on Capitol Hill don’t see it that way. They believe the oil leak disaster has helped persuade voters that action is necessary even if it creates a short-term drag on the economy. And they are betting more Republicans will decide they can’t any longer merely oppose Democratic plans.

For his part, Obama says he wants to “aggressively accelerate” America’s shift away from fossil fuels through business subsidies, government R&D funding and carbon emissions pricing through a cap-and-trade system.

But is there any evidence any of this would actually work? Obama’s 2009 stimulus package increased funding for alternative energy research, and currently the government is spending about $5 billion a year on everything from renewables to smart grid technology. And a new group of business execs, including Microsoft’s Bill Gates and GE’s Jeff Immelt, is pushing Washington to triple that level of funding. They point to such successful government R&D efforts as Internet and Human Genome Project.

But energy has been tricky for Uncle Sam. For instance, the 1970s energy crisis led to a federally funded synthetic fuels project beset by cost overruns and technical failures. (The 1980s collapse in oil prices didn’t help, either.) And a 2003 OECD study found that government-led R&D doesn’t seem to boost economic growth, or at least not in ways that can be easily measured by economists.

But first things first, Mr. President. The Pivot can wait.

COMMENT

What is needed are energy systems that are inexpensive, clean, and self contained, do not rely on fossil fuels and can be developed and maintained locally. You think I am dreaming I can feel that in my bones! Yet over the past (give or take ) hundred years or so, scientists, inventors and various curious people, have developed ideas and innovations, that would help us move totally away from our reliance on the presently accepted norms of oil, coal and gas – aka ‘fossil fuels’. Consider the work of Nikola Telsa and Stanley Meyer for starters!

If our governments are sincere in their attempt to reduce carbon emissions, and also reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, then why have they hidden this information from us? It is known that they have had knowledge of most of these innovations and scientific discoveries for a very long time. How do you define ‘sincerity’? Or better still can you say ‘sincerity’ and ‘government’ in the one breathe? An oxymoron!

http://just-me-in-t.blogspot.com/2010/06  /define-sincerity.html

Posted by justmeint | Report as abusive

Katrina? Gulf spill may be Obama’s Iranian hostage crisis

May 28, 2010 16:24 UTC

The analogies have been flowing almost as fast as the oil from the Gulf seabed. The BP spill is Barack Obama’s Katrina. Or maybe it is his 9-11. Pick your disaster of choice. But however you want to classify it, the expanding oil slick is a mess for the White House:

1) Voters are impatient. By a 53-to-43 margin, according to pollster Gallup, Americans think the president has mishandled the crisis. CBS News found a similar gap. The spill strikes particularly at  one of the president’s supposed strengths — competence — and highlights a perceived weakness — that he is more an intellectual than a executive. Even Democrats don’t think he has been hands-on enough. (See James Carville’s near-hysterical rant on ABC.) And now Obama is reversing a well-thought out move to allow more drilling.

2) The president’s long-declining approval ratings had been perking up, thanks to the recovering economy and his push for financial reform. Now they’re sinking again. Since World War Two, presidents with sub-50 percent approval ratings — Obama is at 47 percent — have seen their party lose an average of 36 House seats in midterm elections. The GOP needs 39 to take control of the lower chamber.

3) The spill has also undercut Democratic efforts to pass an energy bill that would subsidize alternative fuels and create a limited carbon emissions trading system. Obama has suspended deepwater drilling. But Republicans won’t even consider passing a bill that doesn’t expand such efforts. That demand makes the legislation a non-starter for Democrats. Now energy companies have begun quietly talking to GOPers about what sort of energy policy they would push if they take one or both chambers of Congress.

4) And if BP can’t permanently stop the leak? Then the problem isn’t Obama’s Katrina, it is his Iranian hostage crisis — a long-term problem he has no control over that continually drains his political capital and popularity. The White House better hope the First Father can soon tell daughter Malia that “Yes, Daddy has plugged that hole.”

COMMENT

Devastation Horizon could be Obama’s Iranian hostage crisis if he had a deal with BP to plug the thing and magically clean up the Gulf overnight on the eve of his reelection. Otherwise, not really.

Posted by HBC | Report as abusive
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