If Congress can’t agree on a deficit-reduction package, the government will see $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts in late March. Why? In 2011, Congress passed the Budget Control Act, which used the spending cuts as an incentive to agree to an eventual deficit deal. Well, they still can’t agree on anything.
The potential result in March will be major cuts to clean energy R&D and deployment programs at the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, and other agencies. It will also significantly reduce the budget for our national parks system, making it more difficult for the cash-strapped agency to manage our beloved public lands.
Photo: Roger L. Wollenberg/Getty Images
A New Energy Secretary
Steven Chu, a huge supporter of clean energy and a strong believer in the need to fight climate change, is on his way out as Secretary of Energy. There’s a lot of speculation about whether Obama will bring in an experienced politician or an “outsider” who can bring fresh ideas to the agency. Whoever it is, the timing couldn’t be more important for shaping America’s climate-friendly energy policy.
In his parting letter to DOE employees, Chu made a strong call for action on climate: “Ultimately we have a moral responsibility to the most innocent victims of adverse climate change. Those who will suffer the most are the people who are the most innocent: the world’s poorest citizens and those yet to be born.” Environmentalists are hoping Chu’s replacement comes out just as strong on these issues and executes Obama’s climate strategy in a second term.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
A New Secretary of the Interior
Ken Salazar is also leaving his post as Secretary of the Interior. This week Obama named Sally Jewell, the CEO of the outdoor equipment company REI, as his replacement. Jewell has a lot of experience advocating for the importance of outdoor recreation and protection of lands. However, some environmentalists are skeptical of her previous experience working as an engineer for Mobil Oil.
Although outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has been a major supporter of renewable energy, he’s also been historically weak on protecting lands. Under the leadership of Salazar, the Obama Administration set aside fewer permanently protected lands than the W. Bush, Clinton, H.W. Bush, and Reagan Administrations. For the sake of the climate and public lands, environmentalists are hoping Sally Jewell won’t lean too heavily on her oil industry experience to run the agency.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The Fight Over Energy Incentives
If it doesn’t happen during the fiscal brawl over the next month, Congress will likely take up debate on tax subsidies for oil, gas, and renewables sometime later this year. There’s a growing interest among Congressional lawmakers and the White House to revisit tax policy for the energy sector. Even many conservative lawmakers hostile to renewable energy are becoming interested in rolling back century-old tax breaks for the oil & gas sector. Environmentalists are pushing hard for the rollback of fossil fuel tax breaks. Clean energy supporters are cautiously approaching the debate, concerned that more nascent industries will suffer if they completely lose all their incentives. But if the debate proceeds like it has in the past, the fossil fuel industry will spend a lot of money to squelch momentum in Congress for repealing its subsidies.
Photo: Scott J. Ferrell/Getty Images
Obama’s Approach to Climate
The President says that climate change is going to be one of his top priorities in his second term. So far, there are very few signals that the Administration is gearing up efforts to propose anything serious. The White House has avoided talking about a carbon tax and it has tried to separate economic issues from environmental ones—a half-baked approach to talking about the importance of climate action.
That’s not to say the President isn’t serious. Since his reelection, he has increasingly indicated that he wants to address climate change once again. It’s just not clear that his team has a coherent plan to actually undertake the task. As a new analysis from the World Resources Institute points out, the U.S. is falling short of its voluntary target to reduce emissions 17 percent by 2020. If Obama wants to leave an important environmental legacy, he needs to start rolling out some big ideas soon.
President Obama: It’s Time to Get Serious About Climate Change
Climate change isn’t a problem of tomorrow – it’s affecting us today! Extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy will become more and more frequent if we continue to produce carbon dioxide at this rate. If you support the advocacy work of groups like the Environmental Defense Fund, sign on to tell President Obama to make climate change a priority in his second term!
Stephen Lacey is a Senior Editor at Greentech Media, where he reports on the business of cleantech. He was formerly Deputy Editor of Climate Progress, a leading climate and energy blog run by the Center for American Progress. He writes daily on clean energy policy, technologies, and finance. He received his B.A. in journalism from Franklin Pierce University.