Obama hosts climate and energy planning session at White House

President Obama solicited ideas on a wide variety of energy and climate issues in a meeting Thursday with more than a dozen outside experts and business executives, with an eye toward what he might accomplish in his second term through executive action and public-private partnerships, according to participants.

Topics included steps to promote energy efficiency, how to modernize the nation’s electrical grid to make it more resilient and “green,” as well as the need for more information about leakage of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from hydraulic fracturing of shale gas.

Many of the 14 outside participants hailed from the energy sector, including Anadarko Executive Chairman James T. Hackett, Southwest Gas chief executive Jeffrey Shaw and NextEra Energy Executive Chairman Lewis Hay III. But the session also featured academics and business executives from different fields, such as Harvard University law professor and regulation expert Cass Sunstein and FedEx chairman Fred Smith, who has sought alternatives to oil in powering his company’s vast vehicle fleet.

Josh Earnest, special assistant to the president and principal deputy press secretary, told reporters that Obama vowed in the meeting to use existing executive authority across the government and leverage public-private partnerships to advance his energy agenda.

“The president reiterated his commitment to a cleaner and more secure energy future,” Earnest said.

Earnest said Obama plans to travel next Friday to Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, one of the Energy Department’s largest scientific research facilities, for an event geared around his energy agenda.

The group did not discuss the Keystone XL pipeline permit, one of the most controversial climate decisions Obama will make this year. Participants asked not to be identified because the president had asked that members of the group not reveal specifics about the meeting.

Eight White House officials took part in the meeting, including the president’s chief science adviser John Holdren, domestic policy adviser Cecilia Muñoz and deputy assistant to the president on energy and climate change Heather Zichal.

The topics of discussion were consistent with issues Obama mentioned in his inaugural and State of the Union speeches; one participant described the discussion as focused on “the art of the possible.”

Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president for government affairs at the advocacy group League of Conservation Voters, welcomed the news that Obama remained focused on addressing environmental challenges despite congressional gridlock.

“The meeting is a sign that the president is saying the same thing in private as he’s said in public, that we have to promote clean energy and combat the climate crisis,” Sittenfeld said. “And it’s great to know that he’s willing to use executive authority to do just that.”

Steven Mufson covers the White House. Since joining The Post, he has covered economics, China, foreign policy and energy.
Juliet Eilperin is a White House correspondent for The Washington Post, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.
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