March 30, 2011

Reactions on America’s New Energy "Blueprint"

Today I was moderating a panel and facilitating a working
session on energy, climate change & security, so I haven’t yet seen or
heard a single reaction to the president’s speech this afternoon on energy or the subsequent "Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future." So
I’m going to give you my quick impressions from a blank slate, just reading the documents.

First, I’m very
happy that petroleum is the central focus of the goal President Obama set – “When
I was elected to this office, America imported 11 million barrels of oil a
day.  By a little more than a decade from now, we will have cut that by
one-third.” Past energy “strategies” have had goals of efficiency gains and
other amorphous concepts that are not actually goals, don’t indicate tangible
metrics and don’t actually have meaningful effects on our energy security. The
economy’s reliance on petroleum, a single fuel, for such an overwhelming
majority of transportation fuel is a huge vulnerability. I am delighted that
the administration is going to get straight to that vulnerability in the best
ways possible – diversification and innovation.

Second, however, I don’t like that the first means the
president identified to meeting this goal is “finding and producing more oil at
home.” I know I should just get over it: it’s going to happen if the price is
right, and it’s the politically correct thing to do. I’m sure I’d speak that
same sentence if I were in his shoes. But that doesn’t mean it’s the healthiest
policy for our country.

Third, I’m really, really glad that I don’t live above the
Marcellus Shale.

Biggest shocker: the energy blueprint includes a measure to “Ensuring Access to the Critical Minerals
Needed for Clean Energy.” This is good thinking, and I’m happy to read it as we
finish up our forthcoming minerals report this and next week. Credit for this
one goes totally to Sandalow’s office at DOE, as they’ve done the federal
government’s best work on driving home the need to consider minerals supplies –
and for thinking through solutions.

I’m a thumbs up on much of the rest. Good on biofuels (and I
see DOE also announced new support for advanced biofuels research as well).
Good on EV’s. Good on renewable electricity sources (though I’m still not
thrilled about things like “clean” coal appearing in the goals for 80% clean
energy sources by 2035). Very good on removing petroleum-only vehicles from
list of future federal fleet purchasing options.

I’d bet this speech and the related blueprint the
administration has developed will be faulted for focusing on a single, over-arching goal rather than having separate goals for transportation and electricity generation (or some other combo). But
that’s exactly the right thing to do. All other objectives need to be aligned
to support a clear, singular goal. (Recall that for our DOD energy strategy we
released last fall, we also recommended a petroleum-based goal: “managing a smooth transition beyond petroleum over the next 30 years."

As for the omissions, I guess you could say that this
blueprint does not provide reams of specific detail on the ways and means (some funding mechanisms are ID'd but not universally; which agencies and offices are charged with which goals; what milestones is the president looking for to check if we're on track, etc). Vice President Cheney’s main energy strategy,
as I recall, was approximately 9,000 pages long. The Obama energy blueprint is 44
pages (though there is quite a lot of detail and little filler in those 44 pages).

But I think jumping into each and every specific in too much detail would
be worse. I assume (hope) they’ve been doing this for a while now, but the next
step for me would be to evaluate the energy goals in previous Executive Orders
and energy goals within each federal agency to ensure that these all work
toward the petroleum import reduction goal the president has now set. If they
counter this goal, they should be changed. That will be more important as a
starting point than outlining every detail – especially when much of the action
needed will have to come from the private sector, national labs, academia and
consumers themselves.

Finally, my biggest head-scratcher is this “Promoting the use of Marine Highways” measure
on page 23 of the blueprint. It sounds straightforward, but also way out of the
blue and I’m not sure exactly what this means in terms of saving energy or
energy innovation. Something to dig into, and if anyone has good info on this
please send it our way.

Okay, now on to
reading through reactions from others that may be bouncing around the
internets. As always, we’d welcome comments from readers here or by
Facebook/Twitter as well.