Energy, environment, and the 2013 inauguration

Thursday, January 24, 2013

This week U.S. President Barack Obama took the oath of office for his second term. The 57th presidential inauguration was celebrated in Washington, D.C. on January 21, 2013.  In his inaugural address, President Obama delivered calls for action on issues ranging from the federal budget to social policy.  His speech also offered a platform on environmental and energy issues.  What did the 2013 inaugural address say about environmental and energy policies?
The United States Capitol after the inauguration ceremonies on Martin Luther King Day, January 21, 2013.

Climate change featured prominently in President Obama's second inaugural address.  Drawing on the official transcript of the address provided by the White House:
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. (Applause.) Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.  
Exactly how he plans to address climate change remains to be seen.  Likely measures include further Environmental Protection Agency regulations covering emissions from coal plants, greater military use of renewable and alternative fuels and energy sources, and an emphasis on energy efficiency.

President Obama also advocated for greater use of sustainable energy resources:
The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure -- our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
Because this paragraph immediately followed his remarks about the climate and natural disasters, the speech suggested greater reliance on renewable or sustainable energy as another response to climate change.  President Obama emphasized both the environmental and economic value of these alternative energy resources.

Left unsaid were the details on the path towards sustainable energy.  Will President Obama suggest a national program requiring the use of renewable electricity?  Congress enacted a renewable biofuels standard as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and most states have enacted laws requiring utilities to source electricity from renewable sources.  To date, no proposed federal electric renewable portfolio standard has found traction in Congress.  What about federal tax credits and incentives for renewable energy, such as the renewable electricity production tax credit and investment tax credit?  Last year President Obama called for making the production tax credit permanent and refundable, meaning taxpayers would not need to have any income tax liability to benefit from the credit.

Based on President Obama's 2013 inaugural address, he will push for solutions with enthusiasm and vigor.  The ultimate proposals, and the paths towards their execution, may affect their chances of success.  Exactly what measures surface -- and which can either pass through Congress or, in the case of agency action, survive legal challenge -- will be revealed over the next four years. 

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