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
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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