Has U.S. “missed the boat” on long-range renewable energy planning?
There was President Barack Obama, working a friendly crowd in Henderson, Nevada, not far from Las Vegas. And then a sympathetic comment from a French businessman who wants to see U.S. regulation of climate-warming greenhouse emissions seemed to get the president all wound up.
After noting that the weather has been particularly wild lately — five feet of snow in Washington DC, rain at the Vancouver Olympics — Obama said the best way to “unleash” dynamism in the energy market is to set fuel efficiency standards, notably for cars.
“If you’ve got a fuel-efficiency standard in place that says your car needs to get 20 miles a gallon or 30 miles a gallon, suddenly all these engineers are thinking, well, how do we do that? And all these companies start coming up with new technologies that make your cars more fuel-efficient. Ultimately, you end up seeing jobs and businesses thriving in response to the regulation that’s been put there,” Obama told the town hall meeting.
Putting a price on carbon emissions could have the same effect by spurring innovation and ultimately creating jobs, he said.
The transition to cleaner renewable energy isn’t going to happen overnight, the president said.
“But what we should be doing is planning over the next 20, 30 years to move in that direction. That’s what countries like China are doing. That’s what countries like France are doing. That’s what countries all across Europe are doing, and all across Asia are doing. We don’t want to be left behind. We’re the only ones who have kind of missed the boat. So we’re still using 20th century technologies and everybody else is producing 21st century technologies.”
Strong language, but the crowd seemed to be with him. And he went on:
“Look what happened with the car. We started getting our clock cleaned when consumers decided they wanted a cleaner car and suddenly everybody was buying their cars from Japan, or now South Korea. And we want to make sure that that doesn’t happen when it comes to wind turbines, it doesn’t happen when it comes to solar energy, et cetera.
“So the ideas that are being talked about is how do we provide more incentive for clean energy companies … to operate profitably, and over time how do we start shifting away from less efficient ways of using energy? That’s a pretty straightforward thing to do. There’s nothing radical about it.”
Straightforward or not, these kinds of measures to curb climate change have been having a tough slog in Congress, where a new bipartisan effort is just getting going. When it comes to renewable energy, where will the United States be in 20 or 30 years? And where will the rest of the world’s powerhouse economies be?
Photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (President Barack Obama at a town hall meeting in Henderson, Nevada, February 19, 2010)