Obama’s Energy Standard to Begin with Federal Fleet: Comprehensive plans extend for decades to come

All federal fleet vehicles will use alternative fuel starting in 2015 under an initiative President Obama announced Thursday in a his weekly address given at a UPS customer center in Landover, Md.

“We’ve already doubled the number of alternative vehicles in the federal fleet, and that’s why, today, I am directing agencies to purchase 100 percent alternative fuel, hybrid, or electric vehicles by 2015,” Obama said.

According to data released by the General Services Administration in March, the federal fleet has more than 662,000 cars, less than 11,000 of which are electric hybrids. Nearly 160,000 run on a mix of gas and ethanol : 2010 Federal Fleet Report.

The Green Fleet Initiative, as it is named,is part of a larger Clean Fleets Partnership that the white house hopes will spur similar progress in the private sector and promote development of clean fuels vehicles by American automakers and electric battery manufacturers.

To date, Obama’s administration has invested about $2 billion in grants for companies to develop better batteries and spark a boom in the American electric vehicle industry. During his presidency, the Department of Energy has created incentives for American companies to develop the vehicles as well as for Americans who buy them.“There are few breakthroughs as promising for increasing fuel efficiency and reducing our dependence on oil as electric vehicles,” Obama said.

On Wednesday, Obama spoke at Georgetown Univeresity in Washington D.C. about the nation’s dependence on oil and his Clean Energy for America program of which his “Fleets” programs are a part:

“Today, about two-fifths of our electricity comes from clean energy sources. But I know that we can do better than that. In fact, I think that with the right incentives in place, we can double it. That’s why, in my State of the Union Address, I called for a new Clean Energy Standard for America: by 2035, 80 percent of our electricity will come from an array of clean energy sources, from renewables like wind and solar to efficient natural gas to clean coal and nuclear power.”

The main point of the plan is to cut America’s imports of foreign oil by a third by 2025.

Obama said he will push for an increased use of natural gas in trucks and buses. Biofuel refinery construction will also increase over the next two years.

The size, weight and efficiency of the electric car batteries are currently a problem though.

“Soon, America will be home to 40 percent of global manufacturing capacity for these batteries. And that means jobs. But to make sure we stay on the road to this goal, we need to do more — by offering more powerful incentives to consumers, and by rewarding the communities that pave the way for adoption of these vehicles,” he said.
“Just like the fuels we use, we also have to find cleaner, renewable sources of electricity. Today, about two-fifths of our electricity comes from clean energy sources. But I know that we can do better than that,” Obama said. “In fact, I think that with the right incentives in place, we can double it.”

The U.S. Department of Energy has the price of diesel currently at $3.93 per gallon, or about a dollar more than this time last year.

“There are no quick fixes,” he warned. America “will keep on being a victim to shifts in the oil market until we get serious about a long-term policy for secure, affordable energy.”

Obama highlighted the importance of renewable fuels in what is to be a new age of budget cuts:

“As we debate our national priorities and our budget in Congress, we have to make tough choices. We’ll have to cut what we don’t need to invest in what we do need. Unfortunately, some want to cut these critical investments in clean energy. They want to cut our research and development into new technologies.”

According to the plan, beginning in 2012 the Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy  will help research advanced alternative energy technologies such as carbon capture methods and battery technology for electric vehicles.

The president pointed out Wednesday that the U.S. has fallen behind in alternative energy over the decades:

“In the 1980s, America was home to more than 80 percent of the world’s wind capacity, and 90 percent of its solar capacity. We owned the clean energy economy. But today, China has the most wind capacity. Germany has the most solar. Both invest more than we do in clean energy. Other countries are exporting technology we pioneered and chasing the jobs that come with it because they know that the countries that lead the 21st century clean energy economy will be the countries that lead the 21st century global economy.”

Obama said the 2008 GOP rallying cry of “drill baby drill” — a reference to the push for more domestic oil drilling — “would do little to provide short-term price relief.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, released a statement in response to Obama’s plans saying “the American people need action from President Obama, not another lecture, especially as skyrocketing gas prices are crippling middle-class families and small businesses.” He adds that the president’s policies have “exacerbated the economic pain Americans are feeling at the pump,” adding “It is time for the president to recognize the damage his policies are having on the economy, take his boot off the neck of domestic energy producers and unlock our domestic energy producers and unlock our domestic energy potential.”

What damage? Boot on the neck, really?

Side note: Europeans pay well over twice as much for gas as Americans do, and a gallon’s worth of bottled water would cost between $15 and $25. (My point is that gas is cheap and we should be using less anyway)

The White House energy policy will include generation of more “low-carbon” electricity (which to my dismay still includes “clean” coal), reduction of reliance on foreign oil, expansion of domestic oil production and ethanol production and an increase in natural gas use in vehicles.

Obama wants “the nation to break ground on four new commercial-scale cellulosic or advanced biofuel refineries to produce ethanol in the next two years.”  The Wall Street Journal

Empty slogans and talking points from the opposition are given in response to any of the president’s environmental policies.

“Republicans continue to fight for the largest spending cuts possible to help end Washington’s job crushing spending binge,” House Speaker John Boehner said in the  weekly Republican address.

What about energy, John?  Oh that’s right, your party hopes to gut the EPA and hope for the best.

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About Joe Doolen

I am a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. My aim is to write on science and international issues with a focus on environmental policy and justice. Topics range from local and domestic politics to international communications and culture, and anything cool about science really!!
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3 Responses to Obama’s Energy Standard to Begin with Federal Fleet: Comprehensive plans extend for decades to come

  1. Jenny S says:

    Thanks for writing about these issues, Joe! It definitely looks like things could get trickier for innovation in cleaner energy in the current political atmosphere. What’s your take on the government’s reference to “clean” coal and natural gas as “clean?” While I understand in some ways these are “better” than regular coal and oil, and it’s pretty much impossible to extract energy resources without some sort of impact, but I have a hard time when those energy sources are clumped under the “clean” category, as I think that is far from the truth and misleading. Nonetheless, I look forward to seeing what Obama’s administration can do to push this clean(er) energy agenda forward.

    • Joe Doolen says:

      Jenny,
      It looks like they are trying the clean coal thing again, starting up coal plants that propose to inject carbon dioxide, etc. underground. This is a little baffling, as they failed in an attempt in the Bush Admin, and clean coal has received scrutiny and great criticism. I think they will again abandon the clean coal plants. Natural gas as an alternative energy is also bogus, as the high levels of fracking in the entire eastern half of the U.S. (due to T. Boone Pickens campaign) are polluting vast areas (and causing earthquakes!).

      JD

  2. Deborah Blum says:

    Really interesting post, Joe, and I liked the chart comparing basic costs of energy with other commodities. Kind of wonder if this should have been two posts, though, one on the green fleet and one one the cost comparison issues. Both probably worth a stand alone.

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