As the New York Times reports, "For the first time since the Carter administration, an American president is putting energy at the center of his domestic agenda." That means making tough decisions about "clean coal," offshore oil drilling and access to oil-rich shale deposits in the Rocky Mountains.
Environmentalists are hoping Obama will say no to all of the above. And they want him to deliver more than platitudes on a commitment to renewable energy. There have been some mixed results so far. The Interior Department is slowing down the Bush administration's aggressive push on environmentally horrendous oil shale, opening the process up to public comment but not abandoning it completely. It is also moving forward with the carbon sequestration technology essential to "clean coal" (which deserves the quote marks because of the devastating effects of mountaintop removal mining).
Obama should also help expedite offshore wind power. A number of factors have delayed vitally needed projects, with people not wanting to look at them being the most formidable. Wealthy Cape Cod residents, for instance, have fought the Cape Wind Project to a standstill through eight years of federal and state review. That's what's great about the new deep water projects announced for Rhode Island, Delaware and New Jersey, among others -- they're so far offshore nobody could possibly see them with the naked eye.
One of the big things holding up offshore wind has been stupid jurisdictional squabbling between the Interior Department and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. On March 17 the two agencies announced "their intent to work together" to get stalled projects off the drawing board and producing energy. "Our renewable energy is too important for bureaucratic turf battles to slow down our progress," said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
A cautionary note comes from Mike Olsen, counsel at lobbying firm Bracewell & Giuliani (which has many wind clients) in Washington. "They agreed on sitting down to work out an agreement," he said. "It's not a memorandum of understanding."
So there might be more delay, but wind developers are celebrating anyway. "This is long-overdue good news for wind developers," said Chris Wissemann, founder of Deepwater Wind, whose far-offshore projects are in Rhode Island, New Jersey and other states. The absence of rules from Interior's Mineral Management Service has left many wind developers, well, twisting in the wind. "In 2005 the agency was told to have rules prepared in 270 days," Wissemann said. "We are now at 1,300 days, and this has been through an excruciating number of reviews."
Wissemann added that the feds could also be very helpful by pushing through a longer-lasting tax credit. "Right now it's for projects completed by 2012, which just misses many offshore wind projects," he said.
If Deepwater's farms are 15 to 20 miles out to sea, Olsen said, "people don't see anything. And if they can't see the turbines from shore, that should alleviate some concern."
Here's a closer look at at the wind farm controversy in New Jersey:
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