President Obama has long supported nuclear power plants. Coal, not so much. PHOTO: Stefan Kuhn, CC license.
President Obama gave a much-anticipated speech on climate change today, and what he plans to do about it. The speech makes good on the promise that Obama made that if Congress would not act on climate change, Obama would do what he could through executive orders. Here is what Obama plans to do with what we will look back on as the biggest issue of our time, who wins and who loses:
LOSER: Coal Power Plants
About damn time too. Obama announced that he is directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to impose limits on how much carbon dioxide pollution power plants can cough into the atmosphere. Right now, power plants can spit pollutants into the air as much as they want at no cost. In taking this move, Obama may be putting a de facto cap and trade program into place. Obama further called for an end to subsidizing overseas coal plants unless certain environmental regulations are met.
WINNER: Clean energy
Wind and solar are going to get another injection of government capital and tax credits. The solar company 1 Block Off The Grid has shown that solar markets are highly dependent on subsidies, especially now that they are in a transition stage of being almost, but not quite cost-competitive with coal. The U.S. government can escort solar and wind through this period while efficiency increases are made, until clean energy becomes cheaper than dirty energy.
LOSER: Big oil
President Obama stated that his budget calls on Congress to “end the tax breaks for big oil and put them toward clean energy.” Given that Congress is required there, good luck, but there is a growing populist movement, which includes free market libertarians and Tea Partiers to end these subsidies, and Obama added fuel to that fire.
UNCLEAR: The Keystone Pipeline
President Obama did not say whether or not the State Department would approve or reject the controversial Keystone Pipeline, the current major battle line of the environmental movement. The President did say that climate change impacts would be a crucial component of whether or not the project is approved: “the net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be crucial to determining whether or not this project goes forward.”
WIN BY DEFAULT: Nuclear and natural gas
These two major energy sources are cleaner than coal, and natural gas is quite cheap. Given America's incredible energy hunger, they are necessary components of any energy plan, and as middle-of-the-road options, will continue to see investment and support from the Obama Administration. That doesn't mean there will be any big changes with them, but in a shifting energy landscape, that's a win.
Yes, this is a win for Democrats, who are more in favor of climate change regulations than Republicans, but it’s also a win for democracy itself. 62% of Americans favor regulations on power plants, with 28% opposed, according to a Pew poll. Congress isn’t going to do anything on that front because Congress, especially Republicans, are in the pockets of big oil and big coal. But that doesn’t mean that the public wants nothing to happen on climate change. They do by more than a 2 to 1 margin.
LOSER: The democratic process
It’s a sign of where America is at right now that a win for democracy could be a loss for the process, but this is merely a symptom of what ails us. Congress is supposed to deal with this stuff, but Congress represents people in proportion to their wealth. It’s true on both sides, but especially for Republicans.
WINNER: Growing countries
Many developing countries have phones, but no phone lines covering their streets. They weren’t rich enough to afford that telecom infrastructure when the U.S. was putting them everywhere, and by the time they could, mobile phones were ubiquitous, and phone lines weren’t necessary. Obama announced an initiative to encourage these countries to skip the coal part of energy development that fueled America in much of its history. If they all followed our path, we’re going to choke this planet. With help from the U.S., they can skip this double-edged chapter of our history.
WINNER: Reason, science
Human-caused climate change is real. Vested interests and the politicians who feed off of them have found climate scientists who disagree, but they are few and far between. 97% of climate scientists believe in anthropogenic climate change. President Obama let his feelings be known about climate change deniers:
“I don’t have much patience for anyone who denies this challenge is real. We don’t have time for a meeting of the flat earth society!”
Democrats should not be shy about this. It’s not just a necessary fight, it’s one liberals will win.