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Keepin’ It Real: Obama Energy Promises

President-elect Obama has said that energy will be a top priority for his administration in its first 100 days — hinting that it will come second only to the economy.

In the past year, the Obama campaign has made a lot of promises on energy, related to jobs, climate change, clean energy, gas prices and the list goes on. Now energy analysts, the environmental community and Americans struggling with a failing economy want to know exactly how the new president plans to deliver on these promises.

I was interested to see some of these issues broken down by Guy Caruso, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who formerly headed up the Energy Information Administration (the agency that does independent analysis for the Dept. of Energy). In an interview with E&E TV, Caruso discussed key points that Obama’s administration will need to keep in mind when tackling energy. Here are some that stood out.

Plummeting oil prices: Gas prices getting below $2.50 is good news for consumers faced with grim economic times, said Caruso. “[I]t’s like a tax cut when the average consumer now fills the car up for $40 instead of $60,” he said, implying that low gas prices will help Obama take on financial problems. But, that assumes Americans will use the same amount of gas that they used over the summer when gas was $4 a gallon. It’s still unclear whether consumer behaviors will change or remain the same, as I reported here.

Offshore drilling: Caruso says there’s no telling what position Obama will ultimately take on this. Obama, who initially opposed offshore drilling, eventually caved and publicly supported lifting the moratorium on drilling in coastal areas. This is exactly the same thing his opponent Sen. John McCain did — although Obama’s support didn’t quite reach the “Drill, Baby, Drill” levels that McCain’s did. Now, environmentalists are hoping Obama will flip-flop again, this time in their favor. Already, Obama Transition Team co-chair John Podesta, has said that the President-elect may reverse an executive order by lame duck President Bush which allows drilling in Utah. However, Caruso says, Obama may continue to support offshore drilling in other domestic areas in order to hold onto certain “bargaining chips.”

Green jobs: Over and over again, Obama has talked about creating 5 million green jobs. “And I think now reality sets in,” Caruso said. “I mean 5 million jobs is a huge number of jobs.” Plus, certain factors which could create green jobs could also eliminate other jobs. For example, Caruso talked about regulatory policies that affect fossil fuel industries. If a carbon tax is implemented, clean energy will gain a competitive advantage and green jobs will open up; but, that could potentially lose jobs for the oil, gas and coal industries.

Renewable Energy: While Caruso didn’t go into too much detail about how the new White House should think about clean energy, he mentioned a couple significant points. First off, the transition from dirty fuels to clean fuels will probably take decades. Obama, like most politicians, said Caruso, don’t like to talk about things in terms of decades. As for his administration’s first 100 days, Caruso suspects that Obama will have trouble getting a renewables-heavy energy package to pass Congress, even with a strong Democratic majority. However, incentives for renewable energy are sure to show up in a financial package, Caruso believes, so environmentalists can at least rest easy on that note.

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