Obama lays out his anti-consumer energy agenda

Barack Obama at Georgetown

In an effort to shift the narrative away from the series of scandals that have consumed his administration, President Barack Obama yesterday laid out a series of policies that he would be unilaterally implementing through executive action.

During the nearly 50-minute speech at Georgetown University, President Obama said that it is time for the United States to take action on climate change and derided what he called “doomsayers” and dismissed those who disagree with his approach as the “Flat Earth Society.”

“The 12 warmest years in recorded history have all come in the last 15 years.  Last year, temperatures in some areas of the ocean reached record highs, and ice in the Arctic shrank to its smallest size on record — faster than most models had predicted it would.  These are facts,” Obama told the crowd. “Now, we know that no single weather event is caused solely by climate change.  Droughts and fires and floods, they go back to ancient times.  But we also know that in a world that’s warmer than it used to be, all weather events are affected by a warming planet.”

The plan President Obama put foward put calls for a “low-carbon, clean energy economy,” which he said, “can be an engine of growth for decades to come.”

“And I want America to build that engine.  I want America to build that future — right here in the United States of America,” he said. “That’s our task.”

He also took familiar shots at oil and gas companies, reiterating his hostility towards fossil fuels and reviving his class-warfare themes.

President Obama said that he would place more emphasis on renewable energy, such as wind and solar, and also praised natural gas. He also talked up tighter fuel standards that his administration has placed on automakers and discussed agreements with foreign governments to cut emissions.

In a statement from his office, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that the agenda that President Obama put forward yesterday will cost Americans jobs and raise the price of energy. He also said the plan amounts to a “National Energy Tax” on Americans.

“At a time when millions of Americans remain out of work and the cost of groceries, gas, and health care continues to rise, it is astonishing that President Obama is unilaterally imposing new regulations that will cost jobs and increase energy prices,” said Boehner. “The president has always been hostile to affordable sources of American energy that power most of our economy, but this program – which amounts to a National Energy Tax – only escalates his attack.

“The president’s advisor calls it a ‘War on Coal,’ but it’s even more than that,” he noted. “These policies, rejected even by the last Democratic-controlled Congress, will shutter power plants, destroy good-paying American jobs, and raise electricity bills for families that can scarcely afford it.”

“The last thing our economy needs right now is another layer of government red tape that will make it harder to grow businesses and hire more workers,” he added. “America needs more affordable energy options, not fewer.”

The reference to the “war on coal,” which comes from a White House adviser on climate change who believes that President Obama should act to shutdown coal plants, is one we can expect to hear more of in the coming days. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who has previously lashed out at the White House on energy policy, said yesterday that President Obama has indeed declared a “war on coal.”

Some of the aspects of the plan, particularly the focus “clean coal,” could have a significant economic impact in coal-producing states. During his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama said that his environmental proposals would “bankrupt” a company that wanted to build a coal plant. He also said that “electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket” under his plan.

The standards that President Obama will implement will likely result in the closing down of older coal plants, which will cost jobs. The other policies he will implement without approval from Congress are likely to have a negative impact on energy consumers.

While the White House may be willing to ramp up the efforts on climate change, some are skeptical that it will be worth the cost to consumers and economic growth. Writing at The Economist, Will Wilkinson disputed the notion that climate change is as much of a threat as it is perceived and noted the adverse effects or pursuing policies to tackle the issue.

“Global warming has slowed. The rate of warming of over the past 15 years has been lower than that of the preceding 20 years,” noted Wilkinson. “There is no serious doubt that our planet continues to heat, but it has heated less than most climate scientists had predicted.”

Wilkinson noted that the since there is a risk of Americans rejecting the frequently trotted out consensus on climate change because of misleading scientific data and noted action could be costly.

“Dramatic warming may exact a terrible price in terms of human welfare, especially in poorer countries. But cutting emissions enough to put a real dent in warming may also put a real dent in economic growth,” he wrote. “This could also exact a terrible humanitarian price, especially in poorer countries.”

There is also the very real possibility of political fallout that comes with President Obama’s plan. Democrats in states that thrive on the coal industry are worried that about the political cost, especially when the control of the Senate and governorships weigh in the balance.

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