Obama Calls for ‘Clean’ Energy Mandate, End to Oil Tax Breaks

by | Jan 26, 2011

President Obama has confounded many pundits by making energy policy a significant part of his State of the Union address.

In the speech Tuesday night, Obama called for an end to tax breaks for oil and gas, and a redirection of those funds to renewable energy.

“We need to get behind this innovation [in renewables]. And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies,” Obama said. “I don’t know if — I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. “

Obama said the money will go towards innovation, especially in clean energy technology. More research and incentives will help biofuels to break the nation’s dependence on oil, and make the U.S. the first country to have a million electric vehicles by 2015, Obama said.

He also called for Congress to pass a mandate for 80 percent of the country’s electricity to come from “clean energy sources” by 2035. He said this should include renewables, nuclear, clean coal and natural gas.

Politico said the proposed mandate, with its wide variety of included sources, may be the most politically feasible means for this Congress to reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

But the House Natural Resources chairman, Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), told Politico, ““He suggested a different route but what he has always done in the past is try to mandate one sector over another. I’m opposed to that.” Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) took similar stances.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) compared the mandate to the failed cap-and-trade climate bill from the last Congress. “I wouldn’t be willing to support it,” he said. “All that does is drive up the cost of energy and it’s cap and tax in another way. And cap and tax ended up failing in Congress last year, and with this Congress being much more Republican than the last Congress, it’s going to fail by a bigger margin.”

American Wind Energy Association CEO Denise Bode said: “We are pleased to see the possibility of the first predictable long-term federal policy toward renewable energy. But of course we’ll need to make sure the policy really deploys the renewable energy Americans want in the near term, as well as the long term.”

She said that fossil fuels receive five times more federal incentives than renewable energy.

Greentech media commented, “It’s hard to call President Obama’s goal to get 80 percent of U.S. energy from clean sources by 2035 a walloping victory for the green tech industry.” It noted that nuclear plants can take up to 15 years to build, that only nine small carbon capture plants have been built to date, and that natural gas “is only kind of clean”, emitting half the emissions of coal plants.

“Unfortunately, by including gas in a clean energy standard opens up the real and scary possibility that methane will absorb the lion’s share of research grants, loan guarantees and other dollars coming out of Washington under clean energy mandates,” Greentech said.

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