Clean-Energy Experts to Obama: You Don’t Need Congress

Deputy assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Heather Zichal will soon step down.
National Journal
Amy Harder
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Amy Harder
Jan. 21, 2014, 6:48 a.m.

A new re­port re­leased Tues­day lays out a path for Pres­id­ent Obama to by­pass Con­gress and move for­ward on clean-en­ergy policies by us­ing ex­ec­ut­ive powers and col­lab­or­a­tions with states and private com­pan­ies.

“Wheth­er it’s 129, 200, or 72, the num­ber of ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions is go­ing to be ro­bust,” Heath­er Zichal, who stepped down late last year as Pres­id­ent Obama’s top en­ergy and cli­mate ad­viser, said at an event an­noun­cing the re­port in Wash­ing­ton.

Zichal helped co­ordin­ate the re­port, which was led by former Demo­crat­ic Col­or­ado Gov. Bill Ritter and has been al­most a year in the mak­ing. The re­port of­fers the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion 200 re­com­mend­a­tions, in­clud­ing de­vel­op­ing cli­mate rules with­in the EPA that pro­mote the use of re­new­able tech­no­lo­gies, en­sure that re­new­able en­ergy re­ceives the same tax treat­ment as fossil-fuel en­ergy re­sources, ap­ply strict frack­ing rules, and de­vel­op meth­ods that can count “ex­tern­al­ized” costs of fossil-fuel en­ergy, such as pol­lu­tion.

“Use these meth­ods to es­tab­lish pri­or­it­ies for fed­er­al sup­port of en­ergy re­sources and dir­ect it to the ‘best of the above’ rather than ‘all of the above,’ ” states the re­port.

The White House dir­ec­ted Ritter and some 100 oth­er in­dustry ex­perts who helped write the re­port to fo­cus on six main areas: en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, re­new­able mar­kets, re­new­able-en­ergy fin­an­cing, al­tern­at­ive-fueled vehicles, new busi­ness mod­els, and nat­ur­al-gas rule­mak­ings.

The re­port doesn’t tackle some of the most con­tro­ver­sial top­ics fa­cing Obama right now, in­clud­ing the Key­stone XL pipeline and ex­ports of nat­ur­al gas and oil.

Ritter says that wasn’t the point of the re­port.

“This wasn’t about us tak­ing on one of the biggest dis­putes around en­ergy,” Ritter said. “This was about the pres­id­ent mov­ing ahead on a clean-en­ergy eco­nomy.”

Re­ports are pub­lished al­most daily in Wash­ing­ton, with much fan­fare upon their re­lease, but without much last­ing at­ten­tion. This one is dif­fer­ent, Zichal said, namely be­cause its im­petus came from a 90-minute meet­ing Ritter and oth­ers at­ten­ded with Obama last March.

“At the end of the day, what’s go­ing to keep this re­port rel­ev­ant is that the pres­id­ent is go­ing to keep the pres­sure on his agen­cies to find new ideas, to find ad­di­tion­al areas of op­por­tun­ity, so that when he leaves of­fice in three years, he will have full con­fid­ence that we have done as much as he pos­sibly can do.”

The role of Con­gress was barely men­tioned in the hour-long event Tues­day morn­ing, which Ritter im­plied was in­ten­ded: “They’re not our audi­ence here. It was the pres­id­ent and the agen­cies.” 

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