Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Obama administration's stealth campaign on climate change

Back in 2010 when the Republicans were exploiting fears about the economy by suggesting that President Obama's policies were a failure and liberals we busy complaining about how the American Recovery Act was too small, one reporter dug in to really take a look at the largest stimulus package in U.S. history and told us a story no one else had noticed. His name is Michael Grunwald and he eventually published a book that changed the conversation about the ARA titled: The New New Deal. Here's something he wrote about all that for TIME magazine:
For starters, the Recovery Act is the most ambitious energy legislation in history, converting the Energy Department into the world's largest venture-capital fund. It's pouring $90 billion into clean energy, including unprecedented investments in a smart grid; energy efficiency; electric cars; renewable power from the sun, wind and earth; cleaner coal; advanced biofuels; and factories to manufacture green stuff in the U.S. The act will also triple the number of smart electric meters in our homes, quadruple the number of hybrids in the federal auto fleet and finance far-out energy research through a new government incubator modeled after the Pentagon agency that fathered the Internet.
Thus began what some might call the Obama administration's stealth campaign on combating climate change. I've chronicled before that a big part of that stealth campaign has been the ongoing efforts of the Department of Defense to go green. As the largest energy consumer in the world, those efforts go beyond being beneficial to the military and have huge implications in the private sector.
Military investment in renewable energy and related technologies, in many cases, holds the potential to bridge the “valley of death” that lies between research & development and full commercialization of these technologies. As such, the myriad of DOD initiatives focused on fostering cleantech is anticipated to have a substantial impact on the development and growth of the industry as a whole.
We've also seen how President Obama has infused his second term administration with people who are committed to addressing climate change. We knew that Dennis McDonough, his chief of staff, has a history on this issue as well as his new Secretary of State John Kerry. But recently, Kerry has publicly made this a central focus of his work.
...while the public’s attention has been on his diplomacy in the Middle East, behind the scenes at the State Department Mr. Kerry has initiated a systematic, top-down push to create an agencywide focus on global warming.

His goal is to become the lead broker of a global climate treaty in 2015 that will commit the United States and other nations to historic reductions in fossil fuel pollution.
Given Republican opposition, political observers have pretty much abandoned the possibility that Congress will engage on addressing climate change. And so it is clear that any additional movement on the domestic side of things will have to come from executive action. Right on cue for that one comes the appointment of John Podesta as the new White House counselor.
The deal-sealer for Podesta, who has vowed to stay for only a year, was Obama’s assurance that he would be given broad oversight of the administration’s climate change agenda...And here is where the template for Podesta in action might first become apparent: With chances of major legislation on climate change all but dead given congressional opposition, Podesta will push for aggressive executive action, in addition to backstopping new Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy on controversial new emissions guidelines for power plants.
While many liberals are focusing on the Keystone Pipeline and/or the negotiations underway on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, the real battles on environmental policy in the coming year are going to be the EPA rules governing carbon emissions from power plants. This month they released the rules for new power plants which will set the stage for the coming rules on existing plants.
Next, the EPA must draw up standards for the thousands of existing power plants — some 6,500 — which to date have been completely free to pollute the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. Those power plants are responsible for about 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. The rule on new power plants sets the legal foundation for this much bigger move.
When you hear Republicans accusing the Obama administration of waging a "war on coal," this is what they are reacting to. It is assumed that eventually these new rules will be challenged in court - which is one of the reasons why ending the filibuster on judicial nominees became so urgent, especially on the DC circuit.

Taken as a whole, this stealth campaign on combatting climate change is likely to be one of the most enduring legacies of the Obama administration.


  1. Great stuff. I am learning how to take pleasure in everything that happens that causes the conservatives pain. Especially the stuff they don't even really understand. But if they're whining about it, then we must be doing something right.

  2. Whenever I hear President Obama talk about the "all of the above" energy strategy, I feel better. How we ever got such a perfect POTUS for these harrowing times in which just about every institution is maladapted and politicized to the detriment of us all is beyond me.

    Good fortune is smiling on us while the nation kvetches. You'd think the fact that we're producing more oil than we're importing and producing more natural gas than any country in the world would make a positive impression on most people. Seeing meaningful changes in spite of our national tantrums is comforting.

  3. A question--Does Obama get credit for the focus on renewables in the military, or was that already going on when he came into office. In what sense was it an initiative that he pushed? Some of it is encoded in law. I found this article: