Thursday, February 04, 2010

Obama Says No Ideological Approach To Energy Issue

Feb 3: At a meeting with a bipartisan group of Governors from around the country, the President announced actions to accelerate the development of biofuels and clean coal technologies -- what the Administration called "two critical components of his comprehensive plan for transitioning to a clean energy economy." The Vice President and key Cabinet members were also present at the meeting including -- Steven Chu (DOE), Tom Vilsack (USDA), Ken Salazar (DOI), Lisa Jackson (EPA). Also present were White House staffers Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council of Environmental Quality, and Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate.
The President announced three measures which the White House said will "work in concert to boost biofuels production and reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil." (1) The U.S. EPA has finalized a rule to implement the long-term renewable fuels standard of 36 billion gallons by 2022 established by Congress. (2) The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed a rule on the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) that would provide financing to increase the conversion of biomass to bioenergy. (3) The President's Biofuels Interagency Working Group released its first report -- Growing America's Fuel. The report, authored by group co-chairs, Secretaries Vilsack and Chu, and Administrator Jackson, lays out a strategy to advance the development and commercialization of a sustainable biofuels industry to meet or exceed the nation's biofuels targets.

Additionally, the President announced a Presidential Memorandum to create an Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage to develop "a comprehensive and coordinated Federal strategy to speed the development and deployment of clean coal technologies." The White House said, "Our nation's economy will continue to rely on the availability and affordability of domestic coal for decades to meet its energy needs, and these advances are necessary to reduce pollution in the meantime." The President called for five to ten commercial demonstration projects to be up and running by 2016.

In addition to the announcements made at the meeting with the Governors, it should be noted that the White House has recently made two important decision related to nuclear power as well. On January 29, the President called for the formation of a Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future to provide recommendations for developing a safe, long-term solution to managing the Nation's used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste [See WIMS 1/29/10]. And, on February 1, DOE Secretary Steven Chu issued a release reviewing the President's $28.4 billion Fiscal Year 2011 budget and said it included "restarting the American nuclear power industry." It includes an increase to $54.5 billion, from the $18.5 billion currently allotted, the amount of Federal loan guarantees to be accessed by companies planning to build new nuclear power plants.

President Obama also made an interesting comment, not widely reported, in response to a question at a Town Hall Meeting in Nashua, New Hampshire on February 2, that may indicate a shift in Administration policy. The Questioner said, ". . .if we can invest in technology here at home, to develop clean technology, place that technology in developing countries, not only just where they can have energy and electricity to be productive with, but establish with that an economic system where they have jobs and they are opening up new markets that we can sell our products into and that we can build our relationships with their leaders through. And at home, if we can focus on making ourselves more energy efficient, because we are a very inefficient country when it comes to the use of energy, just like all of the industrialized countries. These two things, I think, done first can help us to avoid having to do cap and trade and other aspects with environmental controls that are going to have negative impacts on our economy. We need to make productive use of our technology and our people so that we can clean up the economy, put people to work, and then if that isn't sufficient enough, we then go to the kinds of programs that have been talked about at the Copenhagen summit." The President replied, "First of all, those are such good ideas I've already adopted them, although I didn't know they came from you."

At the meeting with Governors President Obama said, ". . .if anybody read the story in The New York Times last Sunday, countries like China are moving even faster. And they're very aggressive about wanting to make sure that these clean energy jobs are in their countries. As I said at the State of the Union, I'm not going to settle for a situation where the United States comes in second place or third place or fourth place in what will be the most important economic engine in the future.

"Now, there's no reason that we shouldn't be able to work together in a bipartisan way to get this done. I know that there is some concern about how energy fits together with climate change. I happen to believe that climate change is one of the reasons why we've got to pursue a clean energy agenda, but it's not the only reason. So even if you don't believe in the severity of climate change, as I do, you still should want to pursue this agenda. It's good for our national security and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. It's good for our economy because it will produce jobs. We can't afford to spin our wheels while the rest of the world speeds ahead. . .

In an effort to dispel suspicion of a bias toward a narrow approach to energy independence, the President said, "I want to be clear that my administration is following a non-ideological approach to this issue. We believe in a strategy of more production, more efficiency, and more incentives for clean energy. We're willing to make some tough decisions on issues like offshore drilling, so long as we protect coastlines and communities. We are moving forward on a new generation of nuclear power plants, although we want to make sure that they are safe and secure. One of the things that we're going to be talking about today is investing in the kind of technology that will allow us to use coal, our most bountiful natural resource here in the United States, without polluting our planet. . .
"The bottom line is this: I am convinced that America can win the race to build a clean energy economy, but we're going to have to overcome the weight of our own politics. We have to focus not so much on those narrow areas where we disagree, but on the broad areas where we agree. And I also think it's important for us to understand that in order for us to move forward with a robust energy policy, we've got to have not an either/or philosophy but a both/and philosophy -- a philosophy that says traditional sources of energy are going to continue to be important for a while so we've got to just use technologies to make them cleaner and more efficient; that we're going to have to pursue an energy-efficiency agenda across our economy."
The following is a brief summary of each of four major announcements at the meeting (links to further details are provided below):
Renewable Fuels Standard. EPA has finalized a rule implementing the long-term renewable fuels mandate of 36 billion gallons by 2022 established by Congress. The Renewable Fuels Standard requires biofuels production to grow from last year's 11.1 billion gallons to 36 billion gallons in 2022, with 21 billion gallons to come from advanced biofuels. Increasing renewable fuels will reduce dependence on oil by more than 328 million barrels a year and reduce greenhouse gas emissions more than 138 million metric tons a year when fully phased in by 2022. For the first time, some renewable fuels must achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions - compared to the gasoline and diesel fuels they displace – in order to be counted towards compliance with volume standards.

Biomass Crop Assistance Program. USDA has proposed a rule for Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) to convert biomass to bioenergy and bio-based products. USDA provides grants and loans and other financial support to help biofuels and renewable energy commercialization. BCAP has already begun to provide matching payments to folks delivering biomass for the collection, harvest, storage, and transportation of biomass to eligible biomass conversion facilities.

Biofuels Working Group. In May, President Obama established the Biofuels Interagency Working Group – co-chaired by USDA, DOE, and EPA, and with input from many others – to develop a comprehensive approach to accelerating the investment in and production of American biofuels and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. Today the Working Group released its first report: Growing America's Fuel – a new U.S. Government strategy for meeting or beating the country's biofuel targets. The report is focused on short term solid government solutions supporting the existing biofuels industry, as well as accelerating the commercial establishment of advanced biofuels and a viable long-term market by transforming how the U.S. Government does business across Departments and using strategic public-private partnerships.

Presidential Memorandum for a Comprehensive Federal Strategy on Carbon Capture and Storage. Charting the path toward clean coal is essential to achieving the Administration's clean energy goals, supporting American jobs and reducing emissions of carbon pollution. Rapid development and deployment of clean coal technologies, particularly carbon capture and storage (CCS), will help position the U.S. as a leader in the global clean energy race. The President's memorandum establishes an Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage to develop a comprehensive and coordinated federal strategy to speed the development and deployment of clean coal technologies.
The Task Force will be co-chaired by representatives of from DOE and EPA and include participants from at least 9 different agencies and offices. The Task Force shall develop within 180 days a plan to overcome the barriers to the deployment of widespread affordable CCS within 10 years, with a goal of bringing five to ten commercial demonstration projects on line by 2016. The plan should address incentives for CCS adoption and any financial, economic, technological, legal, institutional, or other barriers to deployment. The Task Force should consider how best to coordinate existing federal authorities and programs, as well as identify areas where additional federal authority may be necessary. The Task Force shall report progress periodically to the President, through the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality.
Access the President and Vice President complete comments (click here). Access a release from the White House with links to additional information (click here). Access a White House blog post on the meeting with links to additional information (click here). Access the President's comments in New Hampshire (click here). Access the RFS rule (click here). Access the BCAP rule (click here). Access the Biofuels Working Groups report (click here). Access the full CCS memorandum (click here).