Advertising | Metro Eireann | Top News | Contact Us
Governor Uduaghan awarded the 2013 International Outstanding Leadership Award  •   South African Ambassador to leave  •   Roddy's back with his new exclusive "Brown-Eyed Boy"  •  
Print E-mail

Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture

Last update - Saturday, February 15, 2014, 02:46 By Charles Laffiteau

Last time I expressed my optimism that positive developments at the end of 2013 between Iran and the US Congress would carry over into this new year. But looking back a year ago, I was similarly optimistic in the wake of President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address, which put climate change at the top of his second term agenda – yet 12 months on, most US environmentalists would contend that the president’s actions were not nearly as bold as his words.

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Last year I based much of my optimism on President Obama’s promise to use his executive authority over the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to work around Congressional Republicans ‘opposition to carbon emission, regulation rather than continue to seek a compromise with them on comprehensive climate change legislation.
Well, following a bruising 136-day confirmation battle in the Senate, Gina McCarthy was finally approved as the new EPA administrator on 18 July. Just two months later, on 20 September, McCarthy released a 463-page regulatory report that for the first time included national limits for carbon emissions from new power plants in the United States. In fact, the new EPA limits were so low that any energy company that wanted to get approval to build new coal fired power plants would also be required to use as-yet-unproven carbon capture and sequestration technology.
While the EPA’s proposals did fulfil the president’s promise to use his authority to address climate change, it was only a half-measure. The far more volatile issue of determining what emissions limits should be for the 600 coal plants that provide 40 per cent of America’s electricity will not be addressed until the EPA discloses its plans for existing power plants later this year, in June. You can also bet that Congressional Republicans will introduce legislation to block these new EPA regulations.
President Obama also promised to use his executive authority to force all federal agencies to set an example for state and local governments, as well as private businesses, by cutting both their energy waste and energy use. The results of this initiative last year were decidedly mixed: while the General Services Administration reduced federal office buildings’ energy bills by over $65m in 2013, the government’s largest energy consumer, the US Defense Department, met its energy reduction targets in fewer than one per cent of the 52,000 buildings it owns or leases.
In last year’s address, President Obama touted his plan to create an Energy Security Trust Fund that would use more than $2bn in federal oil and gas royalties to fund biofuel, battery and fuel cell research. But since this proposal also required Congressional approval, it would not be fair to blame the president for Congress failing to take action on this proposal.
By way of contrast, in this year’s address President Obama only spent five minutes of his hour-long speech discussing environmental issues. Among other things, he challenged climate change sceptics by stating that “climate change is a fact”. The president also mentioned our moral responsibilities to future generations when he said: “When our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer more stable world with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes we did.”
This year, President Obama took time to tout his administration’s energy independence efforts by noting that for the first time since 1995 the United States is now producing more crude oil than it imports, thanks to a resurgence in domestic oil production. He also promised to support the building of more natural gas plants and fuel stations, and endorsed the increased use of natural gas as an important way to cut carbon emissions. But he did not mention the Keystone pipeline or proposals for the controversial use of hydraulic fracking to extract natural gas from shale and coal deposits on public lands.
Unlike many of my fellow environmentalists, I do not believe President Obama’s decisions on the Keystone pipeline, fracking or drilling on federal land will determine whether or not his environmental policies lessen the effects of climate change. While the decisions he ultimately makes to approve or disapprove of these proposals are important parts of any strategy to address climate change, they are not as pivotal as some contend.
In line with the president, I believe establishing a leadership position in the development and deployment of clean energy technologies that reduce the carbon emissions will require the use of a balanced approach by government to all forms of energy production. But only time will tell if President Obama agrees with me that formulating effective national climate change policies also requires the active engagement of private companies, from industrial sectors like agriculture, electric power, manufacturing and transportation, in the development of those national policies.

Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas who is pursuing a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011.

Latest News:
Latest Video News:
Photo News:
Kerry drinking and driving
How do you feel about the Kerry County Councillor\'s recent passing of legislation to allow a limited amount of drinking and driving?
I agree with the passing, it is acceptable
I disagree with the passing, it is too dangerous
I don\'t have a strong opinion either way
Quick Links