In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama challenged Americans to reinvent themselves for a new economy, especially in the area of “clean-energy technology.”
Obama said the nation must confront a new “Sputnik moment,” referring to the 1957 surprise launch of a Soviet satellite into space, and to “turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars.” He wants one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 and 80 percent of U.S. electricity to come from clean-energy sources by 2035. He’d pay for it by cutting taxpayer subsidies to oil companies.
But since then, a major green energy controversy has engulfed the White House as Solyndra, a solar panel maker, went bankrupt after receiving a $528 million federal loan. Despite warnings from administration officials and some outside advisers, Obama did visit the company on May 25, 2010, calling it an “engine of economic growth.” Meanwhile, Congress is investigating how the company blew through the money.
The last major piece of U.S. energy legislation was signed into law by President George W. Bush in December 2007. For the first time since 1975, the landmark bill raised the fuel-efficiency standards of cars and trucks by 40 percent to an average of 35 miles-per-hour by 2020 and mandated the use of biofuels such as ethanol be blended into the U.S. fuel supply at the rate of 36 billion gallons by 2022. It also boosted subsidies for other non-cornstarch derived biofuels and required greater efficiency for light bulbs by 2014.
That deal was the last substantive one on energy among lawmakers. Energy also impacts the politics of climate change, as some argue that the more the country relies on renewable energy sources, the less harmful greenhouses gases will be released into the environment, potentially provoking climate change. Some lawmakers, primarily Republicans, don’t believe there is a firm scientific link between man made pollution and global warming. The issue has also gotten attention in the 2012 GOP primary race for president.
President Obama took office pledging to address climate change by focusing on greenhouse gases, either through legislation or his Environmental Protection Agency. During his years in office, when Obama led a Democratic Congress, the House passed a cap-and-trade bill penned by Reps. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.). Cap-and-trade refers to an emissions trading program in which a central body, such as a government, issues a finite number of permits to all polluters and they trade them amongst themselves depending on necessity, theoretically rewarding those who pollute less.
In 2011, the EPA was advancing with plans to regulate greenhouse gases in power plants and petroleum refineries, but House Republicans were going on the offense to stop it.
Before 2007, the last major energy action was the 2005 energy bill signed into law by President George W. Bush and supported by then-Sen. Obama (D-Ill.). Though environmentalists largely criticized the legislation as an $85 billion boon in tax breaks and subsidies to all sectors of the energy industry, it did mandate that 7.5 billion gallons of biofuel (typically ethanol) be blended into the U.S. fuel supply by 2012.