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Legacy Content / PROMISE AUDIT

Energy And The Environment

January 13, 2010

Percentage complete: 22*

Despite Senate inaction on comprehensive climate-change legislation, President Obama managed some forward motion on his promises in this area through executive orders; one of his most important accomplishments has been the Environmental Protection Agency's push to regulate carbon emissions. Nor did he need Congress to fulfill campaign pledges to work with China, India, and others to conduct research on clean-energy technologies and help fund such technologies in developing countries.

The administration's unprecedented bailout of Detroit may not have been what Obama meant when he promised to help restructure the auto industry, but it certainly went a long way toward completing that pledge. EPA's new vehicle emissions standards, announced in September, pushed the White House further down the road on Obama's promise to eventually double fuel-mileage requirements.

 

But the administration can go only so far without Congress, and unless the Senate rallies behind some form of energy legislation, many of Obama's promises in this area will remain incomplete. Several pledges, such as a call to reduce electricity demand by 15 percent in 10 years and to double renewable-energy usage within four years, could be satisfied by the Waxman-Markey bill that passed the House in June. But even though the Senate has passed two bills out of committee, they seem unlikely to see floor action any time soon.

On one occasion, the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue did work together to craft and pass the stimulus bill, and it generated real progress for Obama's agenda, including the funneling of millions of dollars toward clean-energy development and the laying of a foundation for green-job creation.

Read more about Obama's progress fulfilling his campaign promises on energy and the environment.

Experts: Obama Yet To Tackle His Biggest Pledges

Obama earned a B- for the progress he has made in the last year fulfilling his promises, according to a NationalJournal.com poll of more than 20 energy experts and advocates. They applaud his work on some of the easier promises, but point out that many of the harder ones remain unfulfilled. "I'd give him a gentleman's C," one poll respondent said. "He's done the relatively easy things, but not those that require any heavy lifting. Nor has he found a way to square the circle of those promises that conflict (e.g., lowering oil prices while reducing consumption and capping carbon emissions)."

The experts also sounded off about where they believe administration should focus its efforts in 2010. Most urged Obama to work harder passing a climate bill, while a few recommend he forgo it entirely. Many of those in favor of a cap-and-trade bill suggested the administration drop its goal of implementing an economy-wide cap. "The Senate will only reach consensus if the president comes forward with a bold-stroke compromise, such as narrowing the bill's coverage to large stationary sources," one respondent said. Others want the administration to focus on other parts of the energy debate, such as technological innovation and scientific integrity.

In order to encourage frank and open speculation, contributors were given anonymity but are listed below. Selected comments follow.

Energy Experts' Grade For White House: B-

A: "He is moving forward on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as he promised, by supporting domestic climate change legislation, by working to establish an international climate change agreement and by implementing available authorities under the Clean Air Act."

B: "He demonstrated remarkable and effective leadership in Copenhagen, rescuing stalemated negotiations. My only criticism is that the White House focused so exclusively on health care over the spring and summer that they lost the opportunity to build an energy-climate coalition in the Senate."

B: "While Obama and his administration have not come close to accomplishing all that they had promised, they have done a lot -- and at a time when they had to deal with a lot of other things -- the economy, health care and Afghanistan foremost among them."

B: "Underlying all his promises were commitments to scientific integrity and to restoring science to its rightful place in federal policymaking. Because the promises were strong and the first steps towards fulfilling them have been strong he gets a solid B. Because we are still waiting for important advances on scientific integrity and regulatory reform, he did not merit an A."

C: "Given the economic and national security environment in which the administration is operating, I give the president credit for moving forward on a number of his promises. His greatest failure is the lack of bipartisanship in any of his legislative initiatives."

C: "Team Obama gets a C for seeking a bottoms-up response to a top-down challenge (though the president's personal performance in Copenhagen deserves an A)."

C: "I'd give him a gentleman's C. He's done the relatively easy things, but not those that require any heavy lifting. Nor has he found a way to square the circle of those promises that conflict (e.g., lowering oil prices while reducing consumption and capping carbon emissions)."

C: "I give him good marks for moving the climate issue forward incrementally through inclusion of clean energy incentives in the stimulus, following through on the endangerment finding and in helping get a tiny step forward internationally in the Copenhagen Accords. But on the big-ticket item of comprehensive climate legislation, he gets poor marks for providing support for the bill in the House -- but not exerting serious leadership to complete it in the Senate."

C: "He has pushed for energy and climate change legislation, but success so far is mixed and the Copenhagen meeting was a bust."

D: "Without taking issue with the merits or demerits of the campaign pledges themselves, the Obama administration has failed to achieve many of the campaign's marquee promises (cap carbon; reduce foreign oil dependence; expand new biofuels). His proposals were an overreach of what is politically possible, even with large Democrat majorities in both Houses. The only real successes the administration has had have come from building on existing policies and legislation."

What Should The Administration's Priorities Be In 2010?

"An EPA plan to cap large-source electric and industrial emissions.... Help Congress pass a 'Transportation and Energy' bill."

"Many of his promises would not result in good policy, so I wouldn't advocate them in 2010. The president's focus should be on policies that have real bipartisan support."

"In 2010 he must deliver an economy-wide cap-and-trade system with a target start-up date of no later than 1/1/2013."

"The administration should simplify energy policy to a few goals that will push us towards the needed CO2 reductions without the massive compromises in cap-and-trade, such as internal CO2 offsets and subsidies for new nuclear power plants that seem certain to be part of present climate and energy legislation."

"President Obama should not only seek to fulfill his campaign promises, but do so in an intelligent fashion. It's easy to boost budget requests for alternative energy, but difficult -- and important -- to reform government investment programs to enhance technological innovation."

"Obama can still bring his grade up to an 'A' during this Congress with a singular focus on enacting cap-and-trade legislation. But the Senate will only reach consensus if the president comes forward with a bold-stroke compromise, such as narrowing the bill's coverage to large stationary sources."

"Reconfigure his energy offices and personnel to more creative and forward-leaning people and programs."

"Real and significant implementation of the recently released transparency directive and strong executive orders that will restore scientific integrity to federal decisionmaking and reform our regulatory processes. Examples of specific reforms would include policies that encourage contact between federal scientists and the media, policies that promote the release of visitor logs for federal agencies... and release of the scientific documents behind regulations."

"I think his top promise for 2010 should be to concentrate virtually all of the administration's attention on the domestic front on making sure that the economic recovery has taken hold firmly, even if this means that they spend little or no time on climate change and other energy and environmental issues."

Experts surveyed were: Robert Sisson, president of Republicans for Environmental Protection; Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy & Environment Research; Jonathan Adler, director of the Center for Business Law and Regulation at Case Western Reserve Law School; Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity; Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change; Chris Horner, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute; Daniel J. Weiss, senior fellow and director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress; Jon Anda, executive-in-residence and visiting fellow at Duke University; Graciela Chichilnisky, economics and statistics professor at Columbia University; Dirk Forrister, managing director at Natsource LLC; David Hone, global climate change policy director with Shell; Francesca T. Grifo, senior scientist and director of the Scientific Integrity Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists; Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute; Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clean Air Policy; Steve Eule, vice president for Climate and Technology at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy; Thomas Gibson, president and CEO of the American Iron and Steel Institute; Paul Portney, dean of the University of Arizona Eller College of Management; David Waskow, director of Oxfam America's Climate Change Program; Jonathan Cannon, director of the University of Virginia Law School's Environmental and Land Use Law Program; Paul Sullivan, economics professor at the National Defense University; and Edward Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads.

* "Percentage complete" refers to the average progress made completing each promise in this category -- not the percentage of promises that have been completed. If Obama has made no effort to complete a promise, he gets 0 percent for that promise. If he's taken some identifiable steps short of legislation or an executive order, he gets 25 percent. If legislation has been introduced or significant progress is apparent, he gets 50 percent. A 75 percent mark is awarded if most elements of completing a promise are in place but more work needs to be done. A 100 percent mark is given when the promise has been fulfilled.

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