Sheila McNulty Obama administration gives Congress a nudge

The Obama Administration has been criticized for not being aggressive enough in pushing Congress to pass climate legislation by the end of the year. Indeed, momentum for such legislation slowed so much in recent months that the energy industry is growing increasingly complacent that nothing significant is going to pass.

However Steven Chu, energy secretary, joined with other officials this week to give Congress a nudge.

Here is what Mr Chu had to say:

Comprehensive energy legislation will unleash the American innovation machine to create new industries and clean source of energy to power our economy. It is the single most important step we can take to secure our economic prosperity and leave a healthier planet for future generations.

Whether it happens, or not, many say, depends upon how quickly the US economy recovers and whether the Obama Administration gets its way on healthcare. Positive signs on the economy and momentum on health care would give support to the Administration’s views on climate legislation.

Yet last week’s unemployment data was not what the Administration was hoping for. And it is increasingly believed that radical reform on US health care is unlikely.

That does not mean the Obama administration is going to give up. Indeed, the past few weeks have seen a string of announcements of funding for one aspect of the energy sector or another. The latest of these was billions in loan guarantees.

Mr Chu announced on Wednesday that the Department of Energy will provide up to $750m in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to help accelerate the development of conventional renewable energy generation projects. This funding will cover the cost of loan guarantees, which could support as much as $4bn-8bn in lending to eligible projects.

It is commendable that the administration is forging ahead. As Gary Locke, commerce secretary, said, if the US creates the right incentives on energy, it will drive demand for clean energy and efficiency that will foster the creation of new businesses and the jobs that come with them. With worries that Congress will not move fast or deep enough, eyes are increasingly focusing on the administration to secure America’s clean energy future.

If Congress does not regulate carbon, the Obama administration can direct the Environmental Protection Agency to do so. Whether that happens depends on whether the president is willing to force an issue that is becoming increasingly controversial amid the backdrop of a sluggish economy. In other words, is he willing to put the bigger picture, long-term interests of the country ahead of his short-term popularity?