Barack Obama is going to unveil the details of his energy plan today. I haven’t seen a copy of the speech or the plan yet, so all I have to go on is the reporting, which is just … awful. I can’t decide which is worse, the L.A. Times, Reuters, or AP.
From what I can tell, there are a few potentially big pieces of news.
We know already that Obama supports a cap-and-trade system that would reduce GHG emissions 80% by 2050. The marquee news, if I read the obscure prose of the L.A. Times reporter correctly, is that Obama will call for 100% of carbon permits to auctioned (a crucial element of a good cap-and-trade proposal). That’s excellent, if accurate.
Another marquee item: Obama will call for $150 billion of the auction proceeds to be used over 10 years to stimulate clean energy development. (This will no doubt delight investment fans like S&N.) What will the money be used for? From L.A. Times:
As part of his $150-billion proposal, Obama plans to suggest a $50-billion Capital Technologies Venture Fund, with $10 billion a year invested over five years, to help move new clean-energy technology to market.
Included would be developing the next generation of biofuels and fuel delivery infrastructure, accelerating commercial production of plug-in hybrid vehicles, promoting larger-scale renewable energy projects and low-emission coal plants, and making the electricity grid digital.
This is, you’ll note, quite similar to Hillary Clinton’s proposed $50 billion Strategic Energy Fund, only [counts fingers] three times larger.
Significantly, Obama is to suggest that he may be willing to ban new coal-fired power plants that fail to use the latest technology to prevent carbon dioxide from getting into the atmosphere.
As we’ve discussed before, it’s difficult to tell exactly what this means. If Obama is signaling that he’s willing to follow Chris Dodd in banning new coal plants unless they have operational carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) facilities, that’s a big, big deal — an act of genuine political bravery. If, instead, Obama is signaling that he’s willing to follow John Edwards in banning new plants unless they are compatible with CCS — i.e., requiring that new coal plants be IGCC — that’s a somewhat smaller deal. Not nothing, but not much substantive help in the climate change fight.
Like Clinton, Obama backs a requirement that 25% of electricity come from solar, wind, geothermal or other renewable sources by 2025.
A 25-by-’25 RPS is a huge deal, potentially one of the more revolutionary policies on the table. I’m curious whether he highlights it in his speech.
On a political note, it’s worth pointing out that most of this is squarely inside, or just barely out ahead of, the Democratic consensus on energy. Nonetheless, it’s wrapped in Obama’s increasingly frequent sidelong attacks on Hillary. Like so:
Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, is trying to run as a Washington outsider willing to challenge conventional thinking while accusing the party’s front-runner, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, of representing old-style politics.
He said, “Our energy program has become an energy crisis,” and that past efforts to fix the problem have fallen victim “to the same Washington politics that has only become more divided and dishonest; more timid and calculating, more beholden to the powerful interests that have the biggest stake in the status quo.”
“There are some in this race who actually make the argument that the more time you spend immersed in the broken politics of Washington, the more likely you are to change it,” Obama said without mentioning any of his rivals by name.
Beltway insiders know that this is a dig at Hillary, but a) are average voters supposed to get it? and b) at least on energy, it’s not clear that Obama’s plan is radically more brave than Hillary’s. I wish Obama would back up his rhetoric with policy — if he’s going to characterize Hillary as a creature of Washington special interests, it would help if he released an energy plan that was substantially more ambitious than hers.
Anyhoo, my initial impression is that this is a fairly bold proposal, worth cheering. I’ll report back when I see the speech or the proposal itself.