The president has integrated energy security goals with environment policy, focusing on renewable power. But his effort won't succeed, analysts say, unless Congress agrees to put a price on carbon emissions.
True, America is still guzzling fossil fuels. But since taking office just over a year ago, President Obama has quietly set the nation's energy policy on a new course.
Even as health care dominated the news, Obama energy czar Carol Browner – working with the departments of Interior, Energy, and Transportation – has established a new, unified energy-and-environment policy. But whether this focus on renewable power and energy security can succeed depends largely on whether Congress approves climate-energy legislation that puts a price on carbon emissions, energy experts say.
"For 20 years we've been ... drifting in the wrong direction," says David Pumphrey, an energy and national-security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "This administration has turned things around. What's important is that we are ... moving in a positive direction now."
He and others tick off the administration's most significant energy-related accomplishments to date:
- Accelerating adoption of renewable energy – wind, solar, and geothermal power and battery-powered vehicles – and high-speed rail via $90 billion in new spending and tax incentives from last year's economic stimulus act.
- Defining greenhouse-gas emissions as a danger to human health and the environment, paving the way for the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate them – or for Congress to control them by placing a price on them.
- Unveiling a new "clean car" standard that, for the first time, regulates greenhouse-gas tailpipe emissions. Meshing that with new fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil and nearly 1 billion tons of emissions.
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