Obama’s green policies: How far the political pragmatism went

The Washington Post has an interesting piece on Barack Obama’s interest in energy issues prior to the election. Jason Grumet, executive director of the National Commission on Energy Policy, described a meeting back in the winter of 2005:

Grumet met often with members of Congress; he would tell them that doing something about oil consumption meant taking on the auto industry, raising fuel efficiency and then not seeing much benefit for a decade or so. At that point, he said, “I’d get the yawn, the glance at the clock, and was told, ‘Thanks very much, I’ll tell my staff person to get in touch with you.’ ”

But Obama was different, he said. “If it was going to take years to bear fruit, his response was, ‘We’d better do something now.’ I was like, ‘Wow.’ “

On July 8 last year, while on the campaign trail, Obama reportedly met with ‘top executives from three utilities and two oil companies, the chief energy economist of an investment bank, a climate scientist, a California energy and environment expert, an oil consultant-historian, and several campaign staffers’. He reportedly knew there was a moral case for reducing the country’s dependency on fossil fuels, but wanted to find a political and economic case too. He left the room telling his aides ‘this stuff needs to pop more’.

The story concludes, he found a way to ‘make it pop’: making a case for reducing fossil fuel use by focusing on green jobs and energy security.

New auto emissions standards, green stimulus spending and the relatively fast progress, so far, toward a cap-and-trade system suggest political pragmatism is paying off.

At the same time, strident criticisms of all of these measures shows how that a good argument is not enough to avoid political horse-trading: the Waxman-Markey bill now proposes to give away 85 per cent of initial allowances; and critics have levelled that the auto emissions standards are less effective – and more interventionist – than a gasoline tax. A report from the Breakthrough Institute suggests the requirement that 25 per cent of electricity come from renewable sources is also at risk of having little effect.

Related stories:

How president Obama made his energy platform go ‘pop’ (Washington Post, 31/05/09)
US auto emissions (FT, 19/05/09)
Tough standards are welcomed (FT, 20/05/09)

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