The star attraction at last week’s energy conference at Columbia was, for my money, John Podesta. He was Bill Clinton’s chief of staff at the White House, founder of the Center for American Progress – an indispensable think tank, director of the Obama-Biden transition team in 2008, and now Counselor to President Obama. The principal reason he was brought in for the second term was to help the White House realize its critical goals on climate and energy. Podesta reminded us that the President considers it a “moral imperative” to act on climate change – as should we all.
There was a lot of discussion during the day of the “revolution” in oil and gas extraction from fracking. I don’t have a particular problem with horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, and certainly believe that natural gas, in particular, has a lot to offer. I also believe, as do most of the environmentalists who have been in the mainstream for decades, that we can and must extract and transport natural gas responsibly. If we have to be careful of desert ecosystems in building big solar power plants, minimize the impact to raptors and bats from wind turbines, and be concerned about earthquakes from geothermal operations, as we absolutely must, then we must also properly manage the risks to the water, air and climate from natural gas. Podesta embraces that imperative and flagged the White House strategy on methane reduction that came out in March. He also noted the big job boost in the last few years from oil and gas extraction and in industry.
Methane is a dangerous greenhouse gas but Podesta pointed out that the “crown jewel” of the action plan on climate change is the pending regulation from EPA on power plant emissions. One third of US greenhouse gas emissions come from the electricity sector, most of that being carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants. Not incidentally, EPA is moving forward on greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act and its actions so far have been found by the federal courts to be “unambiguously correct.”
After his initial remarks, Podesta sat down with Jason Bordoff, director of the Center on Global Energy Policy. Podesta said that today’s oil and gas boom in the US is good for industry, particularly because of low prices for gas. But he said the goal is to reduce GHG emissions 17% from 2005 levels by 2020 and 83% by 2050, through greater efficiencies in building and transportation, and a move to an electricity sector that is carbon free. That is the commitment that President Obama made in Copenhagen and he fully intends to put us on a path to do just that.
Bordoff and Podesta also talked about the Quadrennial Energy Review, a new initiative modeled after DOD’s Quadrennial Defense Review. Podesta said it would look first at the security of our energy systems, then the future of energy in the US across all sectors.
I believe that John Podesta and his boss, Barack Obama, are focused on helping effect the critical changes we need to see in order to prosper in the 21st Century. I was happy to have a moment to give Podesta a copy of my book which highlights any number of Obama Administration programs that have been moving us in the right direction, all of which were in train before he came back to the White House. With him largely in charge, I see more progress.
In fact, the very next day, the President was in California to announce several key new initiatives on solar and energy efficiency. In his remarks, Obama made it clear that his goal is to help us “transition to a clean energy future.”
One striking symbol of a clean energy future is the solar panel array on the White House.