The Obama administration took office with a commitment to create a national energy policy to reduce our dependency on foreign oil, stabilize energy prices, and fight climate change. Accomplishing all these objectives would be Herculean during the best of times, so we might expect some backsliding during a severe recession. And yet Obama shows every sign of making good on his promises. First, he selected a team of highly qualified advisers. Second, following the EPA’s finding that anthropogenic climate change does in fact harm human health, Obama appears ready for a fight in Congress over a cap-and-trade bill that would place a price on CO2.
So what is missing? One hundred and fifty billion dollars over 10 years — Obama’s commitment to green energy — sounds like a lot of money, but rebuilding the nation’s energy systems will require much, much more. Even $40 billion for energy in the stimulus bill pales in comparison with the tasks ahead. To accomplish these goals, the country needs massive and long-term investment in new energy infrastructure that the private sector has ignored for more than 30 years. The government will not pay for all of it, but must leverage federal dollars to guide private investment with carrots and sticks. I suspect Obama understands this. The challenge is whether he can summon the political will to stay the ambitious course he has set.