Monday, August 11, 2008

Ted Glick looks at the Obama Energy program”

Ted Glick, National coordinator for the U.S. Climate Emergency Council, has "annotated" the Obama campaign's energy platform, below.

by Ted Glick
On August 4th the Obama campaign released a comprehensive program for reform of the U.S. energy system. This article is a critical analysis of that program.

Following an introduction, there are seven separate sections.

The Introduction: Obama frames his program as primarily a response to “our dependence on oil.” He calls this dependence “a threat to our national security, our planet and our economy.”

Comment: It is striking that in this introduction, and nowhere else in the 8-page, single-spaced document, does Obama identify our fossil fuel addiction, or the carbon pollution from the burning of oil, coal and natural gas, as the, or even a, problem.

He does say in the concluding paragraph of the introduction that “the nation (needs) to face one of the great challenges of our time: confronting our dependence on foreign oil, addressing the moral, economic and environmental challenge of global climate change, and building a clean energy future that benefits all Americans.”

He lists in a prominent box six things his program will do:

1) Provide short-term relief to American families facing pain at the pump

2) Help create five million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the next ten years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future

3) Within 10 years save more oil than we currently import from the Middle East and Venezuela combined

4) Put 1 million Plug-In Hybrid cars that can get up to 150 miles per gallon—on the road by 2015, cars that we will work to make sure are built here in America

5) Ensure 10 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025

6) Implement an economy-wide, cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050

Comments: In point 2, why is the $150 billion projected as only to “catalyze private efforts?” During the 1930’s, for example, the Civilian Conservation Corps was a very successful, government-run program that both employed people and did many good things. Is Obama opposed to such programs? Also, what purpose is served by Obama singling out Venezuela? And it is problematic that Obama projects no 2020 objective for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; 80% by 2050 alone really doesn’'t mean that much given the urgency of the crisis.

Section 1: Short-Term Solutions: Immediate Relief From Pain at the Pump

Specifics: A windfall tax on oil company profits to fund an “emergency energy rebate,” $500 for an individual and $1000 for a married couple.” Proposes “a second round of fiscal stimulus for home heating and weatherization assistance.” “Close loopholes in Commodity Future Trading Commission regulations” to discourage speculation. “Release light oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.”

Section 2: Mid- To Long-Term Solutions

Specifics: “economy-wide cap-and-trade system to reduce emissions 80% by 2050. Require all pollution credits to be auctioned. $15 billion/year will be used to support clean energy, energy efficiency, next generation of biofuels and clean energy vehicles.” “All remaining receipts will be used for rebates and other transition relief to ensure that families and communities are not adversely impacted by the transition to a new energy, low carbon economy.” “Re-engage with the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Invigorate the Major Economies (MEM) effort.

Comments: No 2020 targets for emissions reductions. Good that all pollution credits auctioned. Striking that it appears that almost all of the auction proceeds will go to “rebates and transition relief” rather than, for example, just transition assistance for fossil fuel workers displaced by shift to clean energy, a strong green jobs program to bring people out of poverty, prevention of deforestation, etc. Of note that there is no mention of the Kyoto Protocol, and why would Obama want to keep alive the MEM that was set up by the Bush Administration for the clear purpose of undercutting the negotiations by Kyoto Protocol signers (almost the entire world, except for the U.S.) for a stronger accord post 2012?

Section 3: Invest in Our Secure Energy Future and Create 5 Million New Jobs

Specifics: Says that some of revenue from cap-and-trade auction will be used to “make investments that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and accelerate deployment of low-carbon technologies” in areas of “basic research, technology demonstration and aggressive commercial deployment and clean market creation.” $150 billion over 10 years for “plug-in hybrids, renewable energy, energy efficiency, low emissions coal plants, next generation of biofuels and fuel infrastructure, transition to a new digital electricity grid,” investment to give “American workers skills and tools they need to pioneer green technologies.” “Green Vet Initiative” to help veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan get “new energy economy” jobs. A program to “help manufacturing centers modernize and help Americans learn new skills to produce green products… $1 billion per year investment.” “Create an energy-focused youth jobs program to invest in disconnected and disadvantaged youth;” no specific funding put forward.

Comments: Big problem: putting money into new coal plants. Another potential problem: Obama’'s commitment to biofuels. Note the specific commitment to a biofuel infrastructure; elsewhere he calls for 60 billion gallons of biofuels by 2030. And why is there no specific dollar amount provided for the youth jobs program?

Section 4: Make our Cars, Trucks and SUV’s Fuel Efficient

Specifics: Increase fuel economy standards 4% a year. Invest in advanced vehicle technology, specifically advanced battery technology. Goal of “1 million plug-in electric vehicles on the road by 2015.” $4 billion in tax credits and loan guarantees to Detroit automakers for retooling for making “new fuel-efficient cars.” “Mandate all new vehicles are flexible fuel vehicles by end of his first term.” “60 billion gallons of advanced biofuels by 2030.” Mandate 1%/year reduction by “fuel suppliers” of carbon content.

Comments: In the intro to this section he again singles out “Hugo Chavez’'s Venezuela.” A 4% a year increase in fuel economy standards yields a 35-36 mpg average as of 2020, which is nowhere near what is both needed and possible. I'’ve already commented on the potential problems from such a major commitment to biofuels.

Section 5: Promote the Supply of Domestic Energy

Specifics: This section advocates active support for drilling for oil and natural gas in the U.S. “on 68 million acres of land, over 40 million offshore.” Here’'s a telling sentence: “Obama will require oil companies to diligently develop these leases or turn them over so that another company can develop them.” The program supports going after oil and natural gas in shale in Montana, North Dakota, Texas and Arkansas, prioritizes the construction of the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline, and criticizes Bush for not building this before now; sees it as “critical to our energy security.” Supports pumping carbon dioxide into oil wells “to produce more oil from existing fields.”

Comments: This is part of his plan to address global warming and move to a new energy economy?!?!

Section 6: Diversify Our Energy Sources

Specifics: 10% of electricity from renewable sources by 2012. Extend the Production Tax Credit for 5 years. “Develop and deploy clean coal technology.” “To maximize the speed with which we advance this critical technology, Obama will instruct DOE to enter into public private partnerships to develop 5 ‘first-of-a-kind’ commercial scale coal-fired plants with carbon capture and sequestration.” Supports “safe and secure nuclear energy,” though “before an expansion of nuclear power is considered, key issues must be addressed including: security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage, and proliferation.”

Comments: If Obama’'s clean coal plans are enacted, he may end up doing more for the coal industry than Bush has by trying to speedily advance carbon capture and sequestration. His commitment to nuclear power seems shaky; we’ll have to see. It’s striking that two of the three diversified energy sources in this section--—“clean coal” and nukes--are seriously problematic.

Section 7: Commitment to Efficiency to Reduce Energy Use and Lower Costs

Specifics: “Reduce electricity demand 15% from DOE’s projected levels by 2020.” Make “all new buildings carbon neutral by 2030,” 50% better over next decade and existing buildings 25% better over next decade. Strengthen appliance efficiency standards. “Put forward resources to achieve a 15% reduction in federal (government) energy consumption by 2015.” Have utility companies change policies to incentivize energy savings and efficiency. “A major investment in our national utility grid using smart metering, distributed storage and other advanced technologies.” “Weatherize one million homes annually.” “Devote significantly more attention to investments that will make it easier for us to walk, bicycle and access other transportation alternatives. Obama is committed to reforming the federal transportation funding and leveling employer incentives for driving and public transit.”

Comments: A 15% reduction from “projected levels” does not seem like a very significant step forward given the nature of the crisis. His mention in the last sentence, the last two words, is his only mention of public transit in this entire document.

Overall Comments: Although there are some good things in this program, there are also a number of bad things, some very bad. This is not a program, in my opinion, that is by any means adequate to the nature of what we are facing. The emphasis on increasing the domestic supply of oil and natural gas and an emphasis on speeding up the process for the mining of supposed “clean coal” is disturbing. This may be a program for job creation and “energy independence” from Middle Eastern and “Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela” oil, but it is not a program to solve the climate crisis.

1 comment:

Dr Hil said...

I agree with most of these comments, however Obama's plan for green energy seems quite traditional and not far sighted. In order to achieve a better future, and compete in the global green energy markets, it must put more efforts and creativity in developing new clean technologies and make them affordable to the public.