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Presidential Actions Could Jumpstart Clean Energy

By Tony M. Guerrieri, Research Analyst, Joint Legislative Conservation Committee

Because of the federal gridlock around energy and climate change, a report by the Center for the New Energy Economy (CNEE) urges the president to advance key measures of a clean energy policy, chiefly by using executive powers that are not dependent on action by a divided Congress. The CNEE report, “Powering Forward: Presidential and Executive Agency Actions to Drive Clean Energy in America”, outlines an array of executive actions the administration could implement to advance climate policy.

It contains more than 200 policy recommendations on how the president can use executive authority on a broad range of energy topics. In addition to presidential initiatives, the report also offers recommendations to a number of federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The recommendations focus on clean energy solutions in six areas including:

  • doubling the nation’s energy productivity;
  • developing renewable energy markets;
  • financing renewable energy;
  • producing natural gas responsibly;
  • enabling electric and gas utilities to adapt to the country’s changed energy landscape; and
  • developing alternative fuels and vehicles.

Among its many recommendations, the report points out that the president has jurisdiction over energy-saving performance contracts (ESPC), arrangements in which private companies make energy efficiency improvements to federal buildings. There is no cost to taxpayers. The companies are repaid by sharing the government’s savings on energy bills. In 2011, the administration ordered agencies to execute $2 billion in ESPCs over two years, but it could go further. The report suggests that the president amend the 2011 directive “to require that agencies execute $1 billion in energy saving contracts in each of the next five years.”

The national economy wastes a staggering 87 percent of the energy it uses, so coming up with more efficient technologies should be a top priority. As a start, the CNEE report suggests that the president order his OMB to complete a pending review of new efficiency standards for appliances within 90 days – which its own rules actually require.

It suggests directing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to review and improve how it counts “green jobs” and to resume reporting the number of those jobs in the economy. The BLS suspended its reporting on green jobs after it was criticized for its methodology.

Another recommendation urges replacing the “all of the above” energy policy with a “best of the above” policy by determining the full life-cycle costs of energy options to reveal and give higher priority in federal policy to those that offer the greatest public benefit for the least environmental, economic, social and security costs.

The report contains 29 specific policy recommendations covering natural gas issues. For example, the report recommends the administration more clearly define its criteria for “responsible” natural gas production, and require that oil and gas companies use best available production practices on federal lands.

Finally, on alternative fuels, the report calls on the administration to institute a few incentives. For example, the report suggests the administration “Create a Golden Carrot” for advanced biomass fuels – commonly known as biofuels. This would be a significant cash prize to reward a company or individual for bringing greener fuels into the mainstream.

These types of executive branch actions could provide states and local governments the ability to take a regional approach to climate adaptation and energy policies, the report says.

The report does not include several controversial topics, including the Keystone XL pipeline and exports of natural gas and oil.

The report was developed by the CNEE at Colorado State University, after a series of roundtables with CEOs, energy experts, academics and a variety of stakeholder groups. Participants were allowed to remain anonymous so that they would openly express their thoughts. Not all of the participants agreed with all of the ideas, but the report reflects the recommendations that received the strongest support.

To learn more about the CNEE’s proposed ideas, download the full 207-page “Powering Forward: Presidential and Executive Agency Actions to Drive Clean Energy in America” report from the CNEE’s website at: