From: Issue 38
Obama’s Clean Energy Report Card
Page 2 of 3
Joe Romm and Stephen Lacey from the Center for American Progress review the President's clean energy record
The problem is not that the Administration didn’t create jobs, because it created a substantial amount. It’s that Obama and other clean energy advocates touted figures for job creation that were extraordinarily high – based largely on the assumption that we would get a comprehensive energy bill including a serious price for carbon dioxide that in turn would pay for major clean energy investments. So even though we’ve seen slow and steady growth in this sector, clean energy job creation is wrongly being held up as a failure.
The Administration could be doing more to accelerate clean energy job creation, but it must also be recognized that millions of jobs can’t be created overnight.
Clean Energy Regulations: B
In 2009, the industry was very close to getting a comprehensive climate and clean energy bill that would have busted the market wide open. After that bill went down in flames in 2010, the president stopped pursuing a price on carbon or a national clean energy standard. We’ve seen very little movement on the issue since.
Why a decent grade then? This Administration has undertaken a considerable number of regulatory efforts that don’t have as much political flair, but do have an enormous impact on spreading clean energy technologies.
Last summer, the Administration negotiated aggressive fuel standards for light and heavy vehicles – a move that will bring a new generation of fuel-efficient cars and trucks on the road in the coming decade and create thousands of jobs in the struggling auto sector.
At the Interior Department, Secretary Ken Salazar has streamlined the regulatory approval of numerous renewable energy projects on public lands, including the largest concentrating solar power plant and the nation’s first offshore wind farm. As well, the department facilitated approvals by creating a “zones” approach to siting clean energy facilities on public lands.
The Administration has also improved the transmission siting process. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a final rule last summer that gives priority to those transmission corridors that help bring clean energy online, while also clarifying who must pay for transmission upgrades. Not very sexy, but it’s billed as one of the most progressive pieces of clean energy regulation coming out of the Administration.
Finally, the Environmental Protection Agency has actualized rules for regulating carbon emissions, air toxins and mercury from dirty power plants. Last fall, the Administration dropped a rule for regulating smog, infuriating environmental groups. The EPA has also delayed other rules for regulating greenhouse gas emissions from oil drilling rigs. But the agency, having successfully implemented rules for carbon and mercury from power plants, will be responsible for spurring a major transition away from coal and toward more renewables and natural gas.
Clean Energy R&D: A-
Obama has come out very strong in support of clean energy R&D, calling for a 70 per cent increase in research in his 2012 budget, even in the face of massive budget cuts. He explained: “Our focus cannot just be on the short term.”
The Administration has set aside more than $1 billion for grants to national labs and academic institutions for research on new solar materials, next-generation batteries, biofuels and bio-based materials development, and new manufacturing techniques for a variety of renewables.
One of the Administration’s hallmark programs is the SunShot Initiative, which is aimed at lowering the cost of utility-scale solar PV and concentrated solar power by 75 per cent in the next decade. The Administration recently announced $60 million in grants for research into new storage mediums, heat transfer technologies and engineering techniques in concentrated solar power. And the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) is playing an important role in the program by helping develop new integrated power electronics for clean energy facilities, with the goal of halving power conversion costs by 2020.
This Administration has done more for clean energy R&D than any previous administration, and deserves a high grade as a result.