Has the Obama administration pivoted on energy policy? During today's OnPoint, Joshua Freed, director of the clean energy program at Third Way, explains why he believes the president's new course on energy appeals to the majority of Americans. He also discusses the chief hurdles to moving an energy package through Congress this year.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Josh Freed, director of the Clean Energy Program at Third Way. Josh, thanks for coming on the show.
Joshua Freed: Thank you for having me.
Monica Trauzzi: Josh, President Obama recently laid out a new strategy on energy. Did Obama make a real pivot on his energy policy goals and did he sort of change the landscape for where the energy policy discussion needs to go this year?
Joshua Freed: That was his intention I think. He has been doing that for the last three years and it was the right time to have the adult conversation on energy, both on the transportation side and the electricity side, that we've needed for the last 40 years. Every time gas prices go up politicians come out and stand before the cameras and say we need to release the Strategic Petroleum Reserve or suspend the gas tax. And President Obama said, correctly, the short term solutions aren't going to have an effect on the price at the pump. We need to move off of particularly foreign oil and we also need, over the long-term, to change the way we generate electricity because we're ultimately going to create, use electric vehicles. If these serious conversation that might not score points with political consultants, but the American people want to hear.
Monica Trauzzi: Right and many people said the speech was a miss because he sort of tried to go too much to the center.
Joshua Freed: Yeah.
Monica Trauzzi: And didn't please enough people. What was your take on the politics of it?
Joshua Freed: It's surprising that the center is where most of the country actually is. It doesn't resonate with the base of either the Republican Party or the base of the Democratic Party, but it's pragmatic. And the American public, they really want pragmatic solutions, particularly when they pull out their credit card and see that gas is 40, $45 to fill up the tank at this point.
Monica Trauzzi: But is this a pragmatic solution when we're talking about certain technologies that are still expensive, that are still going to require incentives?
Joshua Freed: It is, because, as those technologies get deployed and commercialized, the price will come down. It's bringing it to scale. But it also, it's a different explanation than what you usually hear. We had the same debate two years ago during the 2008 presidential election. Senator McCain wanted to suspend the gas tax. President, then-Senator Obama, said, 'Look, that's not going to really have an impact. We need to do much more serious, much more long-term things.' He's following through on a campaign promise.
Monica Trauzzi: Do you take the fact that he did not mention the Clean Air Act regulations as a sign that he may sign something if it comes to his desk, if Congress is able to pass something that stops EPA from acting.
Joshua Freed: I took it as the fact that he's looking forward at what else Congress and the administration can do, rather than something that the administration is already doing. I think also when you start debating the Clean Air Act and whether Congress will or will not strip it, it gets a little too wonky for a speech in front of college students.
Monica Trauzzi: All right, so the president we know wants a clean energy standard.
Joshua Freed: Yes.
Monica Trauzzi: But what about Congress? What about the committees? Do you see any traction in the committees on moving forward on a clean energy standard?
Joshua Freed: This is a process that's going to have to build block by block. So Senators Bingaman and Murkowski submitting the white paper for comment by everyone from industry to advocates to provide suggestions on what a clean energy standard would look like is a really smart idea. It's starting to build consensus from the beginning. We also talked to a lot of Senators. I think there are as many as a dozen Democrats and Republicans we're working with that are interested in it. More importantly, the business community is interested in it. They want certainty. They want a path to deploy clean energy and right now there isn't one.
Monica Trauzzi: And one of the big questions in the clean energy standard is what role natural gas should play.
Joshua Freed: Yes.
Monica Trauzzi: It's really about finding that sweet spot for natural gas. What percentage should it play in a clean energy standard?
Joshua Freed: Well, that's one of the hundred thousand dollar or several billion-dollar questions we're going to have to answer. We don't know yet. We think that it needs to play an important role, but the question that we and many others advocating for a clean energy standard are trying to determine right now is how do you ensure that natural gas plays a big role, but that there's also an important place for efficiency, deployment of renewables, and the deployment of the new nuclear we need.
Monica Trauzzi: How is the context for the future of nuclear changed as a result of the Japanese Fukushima incident?
Joshua Freed: I think we still have to see. Certainly the NRC is taking the steps they need to take now to ensure there's continued safety of our current fleet and that we build into any new reactors safety lessons we've learned from Fukushima. However, we haven't seen a real loss of support on Capitol Hill for deploying new nuclear, because it is zero carbon emission energy.
Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show, nice to see you.
Joshua Freed: Fantastic.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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