Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Impending Policy Shift

As Barack Obama assumes power in the White House amidst much uncertainty, it is still unclear how he will handle the country's energy affairs. It is certain that he will make changes, but the more important question is how he can fulfill all of his campaign promises while boosting the lagging economy and continuing to sustain a robust national defense.
During the presidential campaign, President Obama was largely against opening up new oil resources(ANWR, offshore) and never committed to expanding the grid with new nuclear power. Both of these were referenced by the opposition as evidence that President Obama is among those who wish to do too much, too fast with respect to reversing the effects of climate change. His solution after assuming power will probably look something like the plan proposed by The Center for American Progress. This plan, authored by John Podesta, touts a new "green recovery" that will work to reverse the effects of climate change while reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and strengthening our economy. With the promise of 2 million new jobs within two years and a 13% decrease in spending on imports, the plan seems to be the right way to go.
The conservative Heritage Foundation counters with a scathing policy paper stating that the costs of such a program far outweigh the benefits. Quoting "fuzzy math" and technology that is promising but not yet efficient enough, the Foundation references the failed Leiberman-Warner bill of last year to reinforce its claim that there must be a balance between conservation and the progress of our nation.
Both sides of the argument make valid claims. We as stewards of our environment have a responsibility to take our role seriously and therefore finally get serious about making meaningful changes. The "green recovery" plan and other options currently being weighed by the new Obama administration are just that, serious and meaningful steps. On the other hand, any measure must not completely interfere with our need to create long-lasting jobs, provide an affordable way of life, and continue to ensure our nation's security. The conservative approach makes valid criticisms of a leftist plan that is maybe a little too aggressive and naive about it's claims of green job growth and the promise of green technology.
President Obama will serve his country well by proposing a plan that incorporates all types of energy(For some reason he continues to leave out natural gas) infrastructure while simultaneously deriving a smart plan to slowly phase out fuels that are harmful to the environment or increase our dependence on foreign sources. At the risk of being indecisive, I am proposing a compromise because I believe that both sides have it right and wrong. The fate of a good energy policy depends on a compromise between the two idealogical camps; Our new president must bridge the idealogical gap. I believe that President Obama is capable of seeing this and forcing the lawmakers to do what is right for the country while being a good steward of the environment.


netnet87 said...

History shows that compromise has almost always been an answer to any major problem within the American government and it's policy. The question is, with the new Democratic majority in Congress, is compromise going to be possible? I agree, both sides have valid arguments that need to be taken into consideration. I just hope that President Obama isn't too hung up on "change" to consider the Heritage Foundation's paper.

Jacksonite said...

What I fail to see in any of these plans is the absolute necessity of updating our antiquated electricity grid. For those who are unititated, we currently rely on technology that has been around since the 1920's; a legacy system that exists due to the vertically integrated utility system for producing power.

We have vast resources in wind alley (the central United States) to exploit as well as the desert regions of the Southwestern United States which could provide a huge portion of our electricity if there was a way to move power out. The hangup? No one can figure out how to cost effectively build the transmission systems required to move power out of these regions.

This past summer, the PUC of Texas started what could be the blueprint process for building transmission out to these areas. The Competitive Renewable Energy Zone initiative will as roughluy 12 GW of wind capacity to the electrical grid of Texas, ERCOT, over the next eight years. ERCOT consumers will bear the cost of this construction (~$5B) with increased retail rates of roughly $4/month over the next few years. So why can't this process be replicated over the entire US? Because the FERC controls the buildout of INTERSTATE transmission lines that would be needed to accomplish this. Without some sort of policy that will eliminate the red tape involved in the buildout of power lines, it will be years before we can see an upgrade in our grid that would actually mean something to the integration of renewable resources into our grid.

Fortunately, with a power base that includes almost a supermajority of Congress, Obama will have the power base needed to move ahead with this. Get moving!

Garrett Groves said...

I too have always held firmly to the ideal of compromise, and I think the majority of Americans agree that shifting our energy policy necessitates a gradual transition. I wonder, however, if we are taking too narrow a view.

It would appear that our economy and our environment are growing less and less compatible with every passing moment. Such urgent times do not lend themselves well to compromise. If the defenders of climate change science are to be believed, then we have a mere handful of years to make a drastic change.

The United States may be defined by compromise, but many of its greatest moments have come in stubborn defiance of its starkest challenges. The race to the moon, the creation of the atom bomb, the landing at Normandy, these were all the result of Americans’ will in a focused and determined action.

At some point, we will have to decide to protect our environment or to survive through its changes, whenever they may come. Beyond concerns of “fuzzy math”, or the precise color of our proposed economic recovery, this country must at some point dedicate itself to a course of action because it is right. No simple compromise could have taken us to the moon, and no middle road will carry us out of our current trouble.