Obama's War on Oil  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The ABC has a report on Obama's recent (apparently underwhelming, based on most commentary) speech on foreign oil dependence and clean energy - Obama's War on Oil.

After being forced to lobby for every single vote to pass basic healthcare regulation, the US president is now tied down by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. Both events represent deep challenges facing American society - its out of control health care costs and its desperate addiction, shared by us all, to fossil fuels.

The struggle to solve both problems has illustrated the weakness of the American state in terms of its ability to respond to and resolve such crises on both a political and institutional level. Just a year and a half into Obama's first term the United States remains divided and weak, with deep partisanship making unified responses nearly impossible, and structural weaknesses in terms of state capacity challenging the delivery side of what compromises can be salvaged from the political maelstrom.

In this first Oval Office address yesterday, President Obama sought to revive a flagging political agenda with a very real sense of crisis. His speech was redolent with the language of war, the image of 'a menacing cloud of black crude' evoking the black clouds that rose from the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001.

He not only laid out his 'battle plan' in response of his administration in terms of holding BP to account, but also reaffirmed his belief that action is necessary to reduce and ultimately break fossil fuel addiction. If George W Bush seized on the 11 September attacks to declare a 'war on terror', Obama has declared nothing less than a war on oil.

On the Gulf Coast this means the deployment of 17,000 National Guard troops to help the physical cleanup, the involvement of tens of thousands of personnel, thousands of ships and the deployment of five million feet of water booms.

For all of this, BP will be expected to foot the bill. This is the 'war on oil' on an immediate and local level, with both the slick itself and BP as the villains.

It is the future and global War on Oil however that provides the bigger picture for Obama's speech. With global efforts to break fossil fuel addiction faltering since Copenhagen, Obama casts the Deepwater Horizon as emblematic of a greater struggle not only environmental and economic in proportions but also geopolitical.

Having failed to carry anti-carbon pollution legislation on environmental grounds at Copenhagen, Obama is appealing to American nationalism.

This is because dependence on 'foreign oil' is the geopolitical demon that unites both Republicans and Democrats, even where they cannot agree on climate change or pollution. Obama reminded his audience that 'each day, we send nearly a billion dollars of our wealth to foreign countries for their oil'.

It is a fact that galls every American for a range of reasons ranging from the noble to the xenophobic.

In this global picture the enemy is not dissimilar to that evoked by the war on terror - the transition is almost seamless, because the origins of both terrorists and so much 'foreign oil' is Saudi Arabia and the Middle East it represents.

America's struggle for energy independence, Obama tells us, is not only like the mission to the moon, but like World War II. There too, a looming threat was known but ignored, at vital cost:

"For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we have talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked – not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor."

But there is also another threat in the piece. This is China, which, Obama warns his audience, has been 'investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be here in America'.

Obama thus casts the war on oil as a struggle to maintain not only America's independence from the Middle East in which it is so disastrously mired, but as a battle in America's much feared decline as a superpower. ...

The coming months will tell whether the War on Oil will do just that, or whether the United States will remain paralysed by its political division as well as its fossil fuel addiction.

The Washington Post has an editorial saying Obama didn't go far enough - Obama's TV speech undersells how energy policy must change.
FROM THE Oval Office on Tuesday, President Obama argued that the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico underscores the need for America to transition from fossil fuels. But even as he attempted to rally Americans by invoking heroic American achievement in World War II and in space, the president didn't talk much about what could make such a transition happen.

The answer is that oil, gas and coal have to become more expensive to spur research into cleaner energy and encourage efficiency and switching. This could be achieved with a gradually rising tax on fossil fuels or a "cap-and-trade" system that makes utilities and others pay to pollute. The government could rebate most of the proceeds directly to Americans and invest the rest in energy research and transition assistance. When a price is placed on burning dirty fuels, market forces will drive the sort of transition Mr. Obama proposes.

The president knows this. In other speeches before and after the gulf spill, he has argued for it. Yet on Tuesday he only hinted at this and seemed to suggest he'd be open to energy legislation that doesn't raise the price of carbon.

For that, Republicans bear considerable blame. To be consistent with both science and their philosophy, they should favor a market-based approach. Most on the national stage instead prefer irresponsibly to pillory the idea as a "job-killing national energy tax"; they propose command-and-control energy programs that they think might be more popular. Democrats with ties to coal or manufacturing interests meanwhile dilute the policy, demand payoffs to support it or shortsightedly oppose it. Legislators in both parties champion more federal spending for their favored technologies.

But the harsh political climate is all the more reason why presidential leadership is essential. Passing comprehensive climate legislation isn't likely to be easier in the next Congress. As the president begins to push on crafting a compromise energy proposal next week, he'll have to be more forthright on what true change will require.

The Wall Street Journal has an article noting Obama should be putting some additional energy intp pushing electric vehicles - Time to Plug In Electric Cars.
It's fair to say that President Barack Obama's speech to the nation on the oil spill this week didn't exactly get rave reviews. It was variously described as flat and vague—and that was by his friends.

And maybe there was just nothing he could say at this moment of helplessness in the face of the gushing oil that could have made it otherwise.

Perhaps, though, the president should have uttered two words: electric cars.

One of Mr. Obama's goals, in the speech and beyond, is to turn the BP crisis into a clarion call for moving more quickly to a post-oil energy future. Indeed, the White House believes that, once the trauma of the spill subsides, the chances of passing broad energy legislation—suspended in a partisan coma before the spill—actually will have improved, because the crisis will have a galvanizing effect on America's yearning for a different energy future.

If that's the case, there may well be broader support for building that future around electric cars than any other approach. In short, perhaps electric vehicles are something both parties can agree to ride into a new and brighter energy future.

Already, similar bills are pending in both houses of Congress to push electric cars, and they have bipartisan support from real, live Democrats and Republicans. A blue-ribbon group of corporate leaders has formed to push the bills; they also are backed by retired military leaders who see electric cars as a way to ease the national-security concerns of dependence on Mideast oil.

So maybe this is the rallying point the president was seeking in his Oval Office address. "When the president got to the end, it seemed to me he should have said, 'Let's have a mini-Manhattan Project. Let's electrify half our cars and trucks in 20 years.' " said Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, third-ranking Republican in the Senate and a kind of missionary for electric cars. "That's a very ambitious goal, but it's a goal that cries out for presidential leadership."

That doesn't mean electric cars are an easy answer; if they were, we'd all be driving them, and oil wouldn't be lapping up on the Louisiana coast. The technology to produce batteries long-lasting enough to satisfy American drivers, and the infrastructure to recharge them, aren't there yet.

But the point is that smart people with a real stake in the outcome of the quest think the answers are close enough to make this the centerpiece of a new energy equation. "You have a chance in the next two years to make a real difference," said Fred Smith, chief executive of FedEx Corp., the shipping giant. His company already is operating some all-electric vehicles.

"I'm a free-market person," Mr. Smith says. "I'd prefer that all of this take place with nothing but the free market. But the reality is that, to push things down the cost-price curve, the government is sometimes important."


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