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Denise Bode

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President Obama's Energy Plan: Half Empty or Half Full?

Posted: 06/26/2013 2:17 pm

When the car's fuel gauge is at the halfway mark, is the tank half empty or half full?

Such is the question regarding the president's energy plan and the public's willingness to embrace it.

It fulfills commitment to environmental and clean energy community who were important to the president's re-election and as one of his signature policy positions. And, it focuses on global leadership, which with Secretary of State Kerry at the helm, may be quite meaningful as he is a bulldog on the need to address climate change.

But it remains to be seen whether the broader American public will get behind this plan. It's having a hard time interpreting the "fuel gauge."

According to a recent Pew Research Global Survey, while countries around the world have as their top concerns, the effect of global climate change and international financial instability, with majorities in many of the nations surveyed saying these are major threats to their countries, similar findings are not the case in the U.S.

But that may be changing, particularly as the focus is increasingly on risk and the bottom line. That was the reason cited by many companies in making investments in reducing emissions can reduce overall costs, including the CEO of ConocoPhillips who just last week said, "As a company we recognize the impact that humans are having on the environment and that CO2 is having an impact on what's happening in the climate."

The plan's centerpiece is an emphasis on controlling carbon and other air pollutants through administrative action, providing specific deadlines for new and existing power plants, but not refineries. The existing fleet of over 5,000 power plants are responsible for close to 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions. These rulemakings had been stalled. Of course, any regulatory action may be stopped by Congress. In the past, if there are enough Senators who balk and they join with House Republicans it can stop the process. Easier to kill something like a new rule than to enact or issue final rule.

It is interesting that the plan doesn't talk about tax incentives as a top priority, which are of key importance for energy and energy efficiency. For renewables they again start expiring at the end of this year. It does restate his desire to eliminate tax incentives for the fossil fuel industry and keep renewable tax incentives. But it isn't the headline.

The plan does go back to areas of federal action where there has been success in moving the needle. It would continue the work on fuel economy standards for vehicles. And he continues the focus on the federal government taking responsibility, both in terms of access to federal lands for renewables and energy usage.

On preparedness, the plan's focus on the federal government providing support for state and locals on preparing for severe weather is welcome. This teaming is where government is at its best. It is really is a state role to manage these crises, with federal support and tools. The plan also highlights insurance issues, which will send a signal to business that action is needed. This is particularly the case, as shareholders are already worrying companies about the economic risk of severe weather, etc. In addition, the plan also focuses on agriculture sector which has been severely impacted by a prolonged severe drought promising more assistance and tools.

This plan clearly sends a strong signal to the business community, just as Bloomberg's bold plan did about economic risk. More and more the business community seems receptive to addressing these perceived risks. Hard to oppose being prepared and taking action as the public is getting more worried about the number and huge economic impact of severe weather events. Remember, from 2011 to 2012 there were 25 "billion-dollar damage" weather events in the United States that were estimated to have caused up to $188 billion in total damage.

As a country, the key is to realize that the tank isn't unlimited. We have to make real decisions about the collective journey we've embarked upon together and the wisest roadmap to get us to our destination in as effective manner as possible.

 
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