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A “Chunks” Approach to Climate Policy

Posted in 2012 Elections, Climate, Energy Policy

By Andrew Shaw

At a Politico Pro Energy breakfast this morning in Washington, DC, White House Deputy Assistant for Energy and Climate Change Heather Zichal defended the Administration’s energy record but also provided a window into what a second term energy policy might look like for President Obama.

These comments come after Zichal last week described the failure to pass cap-and-trade legislation in 2010 as “one of (President Obama’s) greatest frustrations.”

At the breakfast, the moderator asked Zichal about her comments on cap-and-trade and what they could mean for a climate policy in a second term for President Obama.

While ideally President Obama would seek a “comprehensive” approach to climate change, Zichal acknowledged that the Administration would likely approach this issue in “chunks.” Specifically, Zichal talked about seeking “tools and policies that can garner bipartisan support.” One example provided by Zichal was extending the production tax credit for renewable production, which is set to expire at the end of this year. The “chunks” mention appears to reinforce the notion that President Obama would be unlikely to pursue cap-and-trade, or some variant, in a second-term.

Following Zichal’s comments, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) spoke – his remarks suggested that there are other “chunks” where consensus is achievable on energy policy between the Administration and Congress. Specifically, Senator Alexander expressed support for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), an agency focused on R&D for breakthrough energy technologies, such as small modular reactors, smart grids, carbon capture and electric car batteries. ARPA-E is modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which, among other achievements, helped in inventing the internet. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided the first appropriations for ARPR-E, which has subsequently used that money to fund over 180 projects focused on emerging energy technologies.

In an election year, Republicans and Democrats spend an inordinate amount of time highlighting their differences on energy policy. Yet on ARPA-E, both President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney have expressed support for a continued commitment to the program. Senator Alexander’s comments indicate that an important and achievable “chunk” of climate policy, regardless of the outcome of the election, could be a renewed emphasis on ARPA-E.