The age-old phrase ‘in like a lion, out like a lamb‘ has often been used to describe March’s weather – it starts with bold winds and typically ends with gentle rains. That phrase also leaped to mind as I listened to President Obama’s energy speech from Georgetown University yesterday. When I compared highlights from his new energy plan to some of his earlier statements on energy, the resemblance was often faint: from bold energy proposals to meek energy concessions to energy from yesteryear.
On the 2008 campaign trail, then-Senator Obama spoke about securing our economy by reducing our use of oil by 35% by 2030 through a series of measures that would increase biofuels, double fuel economy standards within 18 years and accelerate the development and deployment of plug-in hybrids using clean electricity. Then in early 2010, President Obama realized part of this goal by announcing new standards to increase fuel efficiency for cars and light trucks that were more ambitious than those set forth by the 2007 Energy Policy Act that raised CAFE standards for the first time in 30 years.
However, the first piece of the President’s new plan presented in a report called Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future, centers on developing and securing traditional domestic energy supplies from oil and gas reserves. Even as the president acknowledges that we cannot ‘drill our way out of our energy challenges’ he proposed to drill more at home first and then to reduce consumption and innovate instead of presenting the concepts the other way around. In fact, just two months ago in the State of the Union, the President challenged Congress to move away from “subsidizing yesterday’s energy” in order to “invest in tomorrow’s” but it’s hard to see how this piece of his plan is anything other than Business As Usual or how it will break our costly dependence on oil.
Although the new blueprint does include measures to reduce costs while saving energy, it is notable that these measures were (1) wedged in between calls for more oil drilling and more lower-carbon energy that is not necessarily clean, such as Obama’s inclusion of ‘clean coal,’ natural gas, and nuclear power and (2) are already largely contained within the auto-efficiency standards in previously set in motion (see above).
Where are the ambitious goals and innovative ideas that can truly help America reduce oil consumption altogether – whether it comes from hostile nations overseas, friendly neighbors with lax environmental standards or our own wells that threaten coastal environments? Even as the President and our policy makers grapple with the complexities of energy production, distribution and consumption of today, it is essential that they set goals worth achieving if we are truly to win the future by building a 21st century clean energy economy. I for one would like to see more oil-reduction proposals along the lines of the 2009 Recovery Act that could include increasing fuel standards, expanding public transportation, building a high-transit rail system, and modernizing the grid for plug-in hybrids. These bold, lion-like proposals would be a welcome solution to oil dependence, indeed.