While an exhausted Roosevelt planned a post-election Thursday morning hike in Dixie Canyon near her home, she was already thinking about the next big story on the horizon: the first steps in implementing the California climate law. A draft has just come out of proposed state cap-and-trade regulations that are due to be finalized early in 2011. “They are immensely complex. We’re now getting into the nitty-gritty of implementing this law,” she said. We’re also getting into the nitty-gritty of the extent to which California’s support of its climate law will, or will not, have national repercussions.
On Wednesday, a New York Times editorial argued that, “California has been far ahead of the rest of the country on environmental issues. And it long ago cast its economic future with high-tech industries. But politicians in Washington — who have made no progress on climate change and clean energy — should take a lesson from the pro-AB 32 [California’s 2006 climate law] campaign.” Whether or not they will is an open question.
What the Future Holds
Despite the fairly robust conclusion that the GOP’s electoral gains were not, overall, a referendum against the 2009 House climate bill, the Obama administration seem to have taken them as such. On Wednesday, Obama told a press conference that, “Cap-and-trade was just one way of skinning the cat; it was not the only way. I’m going to be looking for other means to address this problem.”
That prompted The Associated Press to dispatch an article headlined, “Obama Drops Plan to Limit Global Warming Gases,” which got widespread pickup. Obama had, in fact, already signaled a significant shift in energy policy before the election when he told National Journal that he would be handling it in “bite-sized pieces,” or “chunks,” as phrased it an interview with Rolling Stone. The chunks that he highlighted on Wednesday - nuclear power, natural gas, and electric cars - are places where the administration sees potential for bipartisan agreement and represent, as an editorial in The Christian Science Monitor put it, “need to focus more on energy and less on climate.”
Indeed, the Houston Chronicle reported, “Republicans have made clear they will emphasize traditional energy sources during the next two years,” and a second editorial in the Monitor argued that energy policy could end up being a “happy medium between Obama and Republicans.”
“Happy” might not be the best word to describe any potential deals, however. Nor might “compromise.” Few reporters, unfortunately, have noted that Obama did not even mention renewable energy on Wednesday. The Monitor’s editorial reflected this, bringing up solar and wind energy at the very end and only briefly.
On one hand, The Hill reported Thursday, “White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said a renewable-electricity standard could be an area of bipartisan energy cooperation now that President Obama has backed away from politically moribund bills to cap greenhouse-gas emissions.” On the other, The Wall Street Journal reported a day earlier, “President Obama’s top advisers recommended cutting off funding for a federal loan-guarantee program meant to spur the construction of wind and solar farms and other alternative energy projects, saying taxpayer dollars might be better spent elsewhere.”
On EnergyNow, a new weekly news show funded by the American Clean Skies Foundation (which is, in turn, partly supported by the Chesapeake Energy Corporation, a natural gas producer), Grist’s David Robert’s argued that, “The bipartisan energy options now being discussed aren’t a different way of accomplishing the same goals as comprehensive climate/energy legislation - ‘other ways to skin the cat,’ as Obama called them — but an abandonment of those goals.”
That perspective might be a little extreme, but one indication that the White House’s new energy agenda might be more capitulation than the compromise is the fact that “Obama’s enthusiasm for gas drilling [has raised] eyebrows.” The president’s “newfound interest in expanded natural gas drilling [on Wednesday] surprised many on all sides of the drilling debate, from environmentalists to drillers and even the coal industry,” Greenwire reported. Drilling groups were pleasantly surprised by Obama’s change of tack, of course, but that doesn’t mean Republicans will be prepared to make any concessions in the other direction.