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U.S. Energy Policy - Accomplishments & Disappointments in 2011

greenies_1111bAlthough it's a full year away, the United States is already gearing up for the 2012 Presidential election. One thing that convinced so many to support President Obama in his 2008 campaign was a strong stance on environmental protection and renewable energy policy.

Here's a refresher of the Obama administration's goals as it took office:

          • Reduce/Reverse Trend of Rising Fuel Imports
          • Promote New Tech "Green" Jobs
          • Decouple GDP from Fossil Fuel Use
          • Promote Efficiency/Renewables Growth to Obviate Need for New Coal

Not all of these goals were successful, despite the Administration's best attempts to reach across the aisle. Heavy lobbying by proponents of the fossil fuel industry was able to protect the interests of established corporations in almost every regard. But there were still a few bright spots that bode well for future energy policies.

Offshore Drilling Policies

The 2010 the Deepwater Horizon exploded, dumping 4.9 million barrels of toxic crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. In response, the Obama administration issued an immediate moratorium on new offshore drilling permits for deepwater areas. Hailed as an environmental victory over the dirty, historically unsafe practice of offshore drilling, the moratorium was short-lived. By the beginning of 2011, new permits were slowly and quietly issued. And just last month, BP itself was issued a new permit for a drilling operation off the coast of Louisiana-in even deeper water than the Macondo well.

Green Tech Investments

Throughout his presidency, Obama has consistently called for more investment in the clean tech sector. While the clean energy industry has been growing by leaps and bounds, it's hard to say that government investment is necessarily responsible. The 2009 stimulus package included lots of financial incentives for solar, wind, smart grid, plug-in hybrid cars and other types of greentech businesses. While setbacks like the Solyndra bankruptcy scandal certainly don't help, Kate Gordon at ThinkProgress, recently reported that the companies at the center of the clean energy and technology sector grew far more quickly, at nearly twice the growth rate of the economy as a whole, at an average rate of 8.3 percent.

Big Coal Industry Regulations

Despite perpetuation the myth of "clean coal" technology, Obama's EPA has been somewhat successful in upholding and even advancing air and water pollution regulations with regard to the coal industry. In July 2011, the EPA finalized a rule that protects the health of millions of Americans by helping states reduce air pollution and meet Clean Air Act Standards. The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) requires eastern and central states to significantly improve air quality by reducing power plant emissions that cross state lines and contribute to ground-level ozone and fine particle pollution in other states. This rule is slated to take effect in 2012, and could cause several outdated coal plants to close, and require serious retrofits for others.

Fuel Economy Standards

Despite resistance from fossil fuel companies and car manufacturers alike, the Obama administration was able to improve the drastically outdated fuel efficiency standard for all new cars and trucks sold in the United States. The new regulations are the first ever to address fuel economy goals for medium and heavy duty commercial vehicles, as well as light-duty trucks and cars. Under the comprehensive new national program, trucks and buses built in 2014 through 2018 will reduce oil consumption by a projected 530 million barrels and greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution by approximately 270 million metric tons. Cars and light trucks built in model years 2017-2025, will be required to achieve 54.5 mpg in 2025 while reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 163 grams per mile. By 2025, the standards are projected to save families an estimated $8,200 in fuel savings over the lifetime of a new vehicle, relative to the Model Year 2010 standard.

By working together, the EPA and Department of Transportation were also successful in launching a new, national fuel economy label for vehicles. Updated for the first time in 30 years, the labels now provide more comprehensive fuel efficiency information, including estimated annual fuel costs, potential savings, as well as an assessment of each vehicle's environmental impact.

Looking Forward: Future of Energy Industry

Of course, since Obama took office, there has been significant economic unrest, both in America and abroad. Partisan politics have been the stumbling block for many of these energy related goals. And in an interest of extending the olive branch, the Obama administration conceded in a few areas where it should have been strong. However, the renewable energy industry continues to flourish, with wind and solar expected to gain even bigger shares of the market in the next 5 - years.

Beth Buczynski is a freelance copy writer and environmental blogger. She holds a Master's in Public Communication and Technology with specialization in Environmental Communication from Colorado State University, and is passionate about leaving this planet in better shape than she found it.

Photo credit: johnny choura

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