Center for American Progress

Top 10 Energy and Environment Priorities for the Obama Administration and 111th Congress

Top 10 Energy and Environment Priorities for the Obama Administration and 111th Congress

Daniel J. Weiss and Alexandra Kougentakis outline 10 actions for the incoming administration and Congress to take on global warming and other energy and environment challenges.

Steven Chu, President-elect Barack Obama's pick for energy secretary, speaks at a press conference as Lisa Jackson, nominee for EPA administrator, and Carol Browner, nominee for White House energy czar, look on. (AP photo)
Steven Chu, President-elect Barack Obama's pick for energy secretary, speaks at a press conference as Lisa Jackson, nominee for EPA administrator, and Carol Browner, nominee for White House energy czar, look on. (AP photo)

The Bush administration has spent the last eight years bulldozing environmental safeguards while boosting the oil and gas, mining, and coal industries. The federal courts and Congress thwarted many of these assaults, while others are now in place. Under Bush’s watch, global warming pollution increased by 6.6 percent, and oil dependence grew by 10 percent. Bush has a scorched-earth legacy of destruction and neglect.

President Barack Obama committed to jumpstart America’s progress toward a clean energy economy that will also drive economic stimulus, recovery, and growth. During the campaign and transition he advocated for many of the policies listed below. Congress must work with him to adopt these measures that would create jobs, reduce oil dependence, and lower greenhouse gas pollution.


SOURCE: AP/Rich Bowmer

1. Wish they all could be California cars. California has a program to reduce motor vehicle greenhouse gas pollution by 30 percent by 2016. Sixteen other states plan to adopt it, too. But the Bush administration blocked California’s request for a waiver from the Clean Air Act to allow this program. The new administration should sign the waiver request by California to allow it to adopt greenhouse gas emission reduction standards for motor vehicles.

2. Global warming is a real and present danger. The Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts vs. EPA that the Clean Air Act gives the EPA the authority to require greenhouse gas reductions from power plants and other sources. But first, the EPA has to make an “endangerment finding” that global warming poses a threat to Americans’ health and safety. Despite a recommendation from agency scientists to do so, the Bush administration refused. President Barack Obama should make the endangerment finding and begin to establish controls on greenhouse gases.

3. Green stimulus and recovery. As the economy continues to tumble, the need for an economic stimulus and recovery package grows. This package should include $100 billion for clean energy programs, including the Weatherization Assistance Program, transit agencies, and energy efficiency in federal buildings. For other programs, see the Center for American Progress’ “How to Spend $350 Billion in the First Year of Stimulus and Recovery.”

coal power plant

SOURCE: AP/Charlie Riedel

4. Mercury falling. The National Research Council reported that prenatal and early childhood exposure to mercury can cause developmental delays and permanent brain damage in children. The EPA acknowledges that “coal-fired power plants are the largest remaining source of human-generated mercury emissions in the United States.” Nonetheless, the Bush administration proposed to delay mercury controls until 2018 and beyond. The courts struck this rule down. The New York Times reported that the EPA “ignored its legal obligation to require the strictest possible controls on the toxic metal.” It is imperative that we adopt a program to significantly and promptly reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants to protect the health and safety of our children.

5. Curb the enthusiasm for greenhouse gases. The administration should seek to reduce global warming pollution via a cap-and-trade program that achieves a 20 to 35 percent reduction from 1990 levels of greenhouse gases by 2020. It should also reduce emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The program should require all emitters to buy pollution allowances in an auction, and it should rebate half of the allowance revenues to middle- and low-income households to help them offset any increase in energy costs. The other half should be invested in clean energy, health care, and transit. Representative Ed Markey’s (D-MA) Investing in Climate Action and Protection Act, H.R. 6186, is one proposal that includes these measures.

6. The answer is blowing in the wind (and shining in the sun). Twenty-eight states require utilities to produce a proportion of their electricity from the wind, the sun, the earth’s core, and other renewable sources. The new administration should adopt a national renewable electricity standard that requires utilities to generate 25 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025.

bridge loans

SOURCE: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta

7. Bridge loans to the 21st century. The new administration and Congress should ensure that the next round of the bridge loan program for auto companies requires them to speed their efforts to produce fuel-efficient cars. A bridge loan program should replenish any funds redirected from the Advanced Vehicle Technology Manufacturing Incentive Program. Loan recipients must agree to cease all efforts to legally or legislatively challenge federal or state clean energy or global warming programs, including the California greenhouse gas standard for autos.

8. Pick the low-hanging energy fruit. Energy efficiency is called the “low-hanging fruit” of clean energy since there are a myriad of ways to employ technology to reduce energy consumption that save money. This would also reduce global warming emissions. A McKinsey & Company analysis determined that, “Almost 40 percent of abatement could be achieved at ‘negative’ marginal costs, meaning that investing in these options would generate positive economic returns over their lifecycle.” Efficiency policies should include incentives for states to rewrite state utility regulations to put energy efficiency on equal ground with new power plants. The new government should establish a federal energy efficiency resource standard that requires utilities to reduce energy consumption, similar to programs in 19 states, and it should fully fund the program to capture and reuse industrial waste heat.

power lines

SOURCE: AP/Reed Saxon

9. Green the wires. The participants at the National Clean Energy Summit, sponsored by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), the Center for American Progress Action Fund, and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, concluded that the lack of transmission capacity was the most significant impediment to the broad expansion of renewable energy. Grid modernization must accompany increasing renewable energy generation, including the ability to incorporate intermittent renewable electricity generation. The modernized grid must carry this renewable power to urban areas, which will require some long-distance transmission lines. The grid can be made more efficient with “smart grid” technology that more efficiently directs electricity to where it is needed. There are hurdles to building necessary new transmissions lines, including public opposition to siting new lines, a lengthy permit approval process, and the environmental impact of the lines. Therefore, it is essential to adopt reforms as soon as possible.

10. Rise of the new machines. Research, development, and deployment of new clean energy technologies have been woefully underfunded over the past eight years. We must significantly increase the investment in clean energy research, including advanced batteries, energy efficient materials, and similar technologies. In spite of rhetoric to the contrary, government spending on renewable energy and efficiency R&D has consistently suffered under the current administration.

For more on CAP‘s policies on energy and the environment, please see:

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Daniel J. Weiss

Senior Fellow