Putting energy policy back on the front burner

PUTTING ENERGY POLICY BACK ON THE FRONT BURNER…. President Obama has been making steady efforts to put energy policy back on the political world’s front burner, and today he made a more concerted effort to present a policy vision for the near future.

President Obama called on Wednesday for a one-third reduction in oil imports over the next decade, and said the effort had to begin immediately. In a speech at Georgetown University, the president said that the United States could not go on consuming one-quarter of the world’s oil production while possessing only 2 percent of global reserves. He said that the country had to begin a long-term plan to reduce its reliance on imported oil, and that the political bickering that had stalled progress toward that goal for decades had to end.

With oil supplies from the Middle East now pinched by political upheaval, and with calls growing in Congress for expanded domestic oil and gas production, the president referred in his speech to a similar run-up in energy prices in 2008.

“Now here’s the thing — we’ve been down this road before,” Mr. Obama said. “Remember, it was just three years ago that gas prices topped $4 a gallon. I remember because I was in the middle of a presidential campaign.”

He continued: “Because it was also the height of political season, so you had a lot of slogans and gimmicks and outraged politicians, they were waving their three-point-plans for two-dollar-a-gallon gas. You remember that: ‘Drill, baby, drill’ and all of that. And none of it would really do anything to solve the problem.”

And what would “solve the problem”? The White House plan is intended to protect “America’s Energy Security,” which is obviously a worthwhile goal. Whether the plan is any good is a separate question.

The bad news is, the administration seems largely willing to buy into GOP rhetoric when it comes to drilling, and the plan emphasizes increased production, though it’s focused on areas the industry already has access to, not opening new areas to drilling.

The good news is, the plan is far better on renewables. As Ezra Klein explained, “Fuel standards for commercial trucks. More home weatherization. Doubling funding for innovation through the successful ARPA-E, or Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, program.”

Overall, the plan itself is pretty modest, and shies away from anything that might be seen as ambitious. Part of this is because Americans have decided they don’t really care about climate change anymore, and part of this is because the White House knows full well that it could produce an amazing energy plan, but after voters elected Republicans who believe science itself is a nefarious scheme to be ignored, such a policy wouldn’t go anywhere no matter the merit.

One could imagine the White House striking a deal, giving the GOP more of what it wants on nuclear and drilling, in exchange for more of what Democrats want on renewables, but (a) the president’s team hasn’t exactly proven adept in these negotiations; and (b) Republicans may not be willing to strike any deals with Obama on anything.

For what it’s worth, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) recently expressed an interest in getting a bipartisan energy “gang” together, in the hopes of crafting a comprehensive package, and apparently these talks are poised to get underway in the upper chamber.

But so long as the House of Representatives exists, it’s best to keep expectations low.