SPECIFIC POLICY POSITIONS
In 2008, Obama campaigned on a pledge to enact a sweeping cap-and-trade law that would slash fossil-fuel pollution, mandate increased production of renewable electricity, and spend $150 billion on clean-energy research over a decade. The bill failed in the Senate, and “cap-and-trade” has become a politically toxic phrase, but Obama has continued to pursue elements of climate-change and carbon-reduction policy. He used his executive authority to issue Environmental Protection Agency regulations to cut fossil-fuel emissions from power plants and to ramp up fuel-economy standards for vehicles. In an April interview with Rolling Stone, the president said, “I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we’re going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way.”
OIL AND GAS DRILLING
Obama supports some expansion of oil and gas drilling: EPA and the Interior Department have approved permits for drilling in U.S. waters in the Arctic Ocean off the Alaskan coast. He is cautiously supportive of hydraulic fracturing, aka “fracking,” to extract deposits of oil and gas trapped in shale, although EPA has issued new regulations for the process. Obama has touted the fact that domestic oil drilling is at its highest level in eight years and that the nation’s dependence on foreign oil has dropped to below 50 percent for the first time in 13 years. But much of that improvement resulted from the selling of drilling leases during the Bush administration and from activity on private land, which doesn’t require federal permitting. Obama wants to end $4 billion in annual tax breaks to big oil companies.
Despite GOP attacks in the wake of the Solyndra controversy, Obama has continued to push for loan guarantees, cash grants, and tax credits for the production of wind and solar power, and tax breaks for the purchase of hybrid and electric vehicles. He has ramped up the Pentagon’s use of renewable energy through major purchase agreements for wind and solar power and for biofuels. Obama hopes to expand the funding of cutting-edge technology research. He has proposed a “clean-electricity standard” that would mandate electricity production from zero-carbon sources, including wind and solar.
The president supports policies that would lead to an expansion of nuclear energy. His proposed climate-change policies, if enacted, could lead to a boost in nuclear-energy production. He has asked Congress to pass a clean-electricity standard that would mandate the production of electricity from zero-carbon sources, including nuclear power. He opposes construction of a federal nuclear-waste dump at Yucca Mountain, Nev., and he tasked a blue-ribbon panel to come up with alternative options for disposing of the waste. In the wake of the nuclear meltdown in Japan, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a slew of safety recommendations for new nuclear power plants.
2009 STIMULUS LAW
Injected about $40 billion into clean-energy programs but included a $535 million loan guarantee to the now-bankrupt solar company Solyndra that gave GOP critics an opening.
KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE
Delayed a decision on the controversial 1,700-mile pipeline that would bring 700,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Hinted that he would approve it in a second term.
In the absence of congressional action on climate change, Obama’s EPA issued rules to cut global-warming pollution and other toxic emissions from coal plants.
Struck a deal with automakers to raise vehicle fuel-economy standards from 35.5 mpg to 54.5 mpg by 2025, which would cut oil demand and fossil-fuel emissions, while boosting production of hybrid and electric vehicles.
Steven Chu: The Energy secretary is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist steeped in climate-change research. First viewed as a sterling pick for the agency’s top job, he has been tarnished by the Solyndra controversy and is considered unlikely to stick around for a second term.
Lisa Jackson: The EPA administrator brought an environmentalist’s zeal to the task of enacting controversial clean-air regulations on coal-fired power plants. Republicans have made Jackson a top target, attacking her as the face of “job-killing” regulations.
Ken Salazar: The Interior secretary is a former senator from Colorado with a strong understanding of both the renewable-energy and the fossil-fuel industries. He survived the BP oil spill and oversaw a fundamental restructuring of his agency in its wake.
This article appears in the May 5, 2012 edition of National Journal Magazine.