Monday, July 15, 2013

The origins of Obama's climate policy

Another recent column applauding Obama's energy policy made me start several conversations pointing out the origins of Obama's policies. I'll discuss the big ones, his CAFE fuel economy standards for cars, and his pledge for renewable electricity and curtailing coal. The main themes is that most of his policies are simple continuations or implementation of past policies, or otherwise simply taking credit for trends that were happening anyway.

Many (like Thomas Friedman) call Obama's Cafe standards for cars Obama's defining climate policy. It probably is the one that has the biggest impact, but really, the CAFE update was passed in 2007, based on a proposal by the Bush administration (that I helped write)  If you follow the trend line, you find the Obama regulations are pretty much right on the exact same trend line as the Bush proposal and subsequant energy policy act passed by Congress in 2007. Though I'm not saying Bush is responsible either, our policy came about due to pressure from a democratic congress, and from various supreme court rulings, based on laws written 40 years ago, and based on public pressure from high gasoline prices, and tensions in the middle east, all factors that probably would have led to roughly the same policies regardless of who happened to be sitting in the president's chair.

As for the policies on coal powerplants, the authority to use executive power is based on a 2007 supreme court ruling that carbon can be regulated under the clean air act of 1970. The bush administration threatened to use that authority to regulate carbon in 2007 but said that it would be better to do so through legislation (which we got) since executive power is controversial and subject to more litigation. (it is notable that Obama campaigned against Bush era executive overreach but like every president happily embraces it himself).

Also, the main provisions in the new Obama plan for electricity are the ones that basically ban conventional coal power plants, but that's disingenuous because coal power plants became uneconomic with the advent of natural gas fracking, so the regulation mostly has no teeth unless natural gas prices somehow reverse themselves (a possibility but unlikely).

This is similar to Obama's pledge to double renewable electricity by 2020. These were the federal government projections back in 2008 before Obama was elected: (see page 70) The doubling was projected for 2020 even then. We played the game too when I was in the Bush administration. Look at the projections (like oil imports or emissions) and take credit for the trends that were already happening anyway.
It's also worth noting that doubling a very small number is still a very small number.

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