Early Days in the Obama Administration

by Richard T. Stuebi

A few weeks into the Obama era, most of the attention has been focused on the raging economic stimulus bill debates. Of course, the economic stimulus package includes significant provisions related to energy and environmental issues, and these will be dissected in great detail as the final bill becomes more widely distributed and better understood.

In this column, I’m choosing to look past the economic stimulus package and examine some of the other actions taken so far by the Administration, as a leading indicator of other shoes to drop in the coming months and years.

(I’m not the only one crystal-ball-gazing: in the January 2009 Project Finance Newswire, a publication by the law firm Chadbourne & Parke, there’s a nice Q&A roundtable entitled “A Look Forward Into 2009” involving industry pundits who discuss their prognostications for Federal energy policy.)

On January 26, Obama signed two executive orders. The first mandates the establishment of Federal fuel economy targets for 2011, to implement the CAFE tightening enacted by law in 2007 but subsequently largely ignored. The second instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its March 6, 2008 decision barring California from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from cars.

On another front, over at the Department of Interior, Secretary Ken Salazar reinvigorated and broadened the effort to implement a more comprehensive and far-reaching offshore energy strategy. Salazar’s February 10 press statement pulled no punches: “I intend to do what the Bush Administration refused to do: build a framework for offshore renewable energy development…The Bush Administration was so intent on opening new areas for oil and gas offshore that it torpedoed offshore renewable energy efforts…For them, it was oil and gas or nothing.”

Up on Capitol Hill, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) released six carbon legislation principles for consideration, launching what is sure to be an increasing frenzy in D.C. on climate change. Much more on that, for sure, in coming months.

By this early flurry of actions, even when the capital is consumed with the economic crisis, it’s clear that the days of the Bush Administration are truly over. And, it’s clear that Obama isn’t buying the argument that the poor economy doesn’t allow us to afford to tighten environmental restrictions, and thus won’t be using the economic crisis as an excuse for inaction on toughening environmental standards.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc. Later in 2009, he will also become a Managing Director at Early Stage Partners.

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