Obama’s Top Priority: Spark a New Energy Economy

Cross-posted from WattHead – Energy News and Commentary

Barack Obama’s top priority if elected president is to launch an Apollo-style national project to build a new, clean energy economy. That’s what he told Time magazine reporter Joe Klein last week.

With America’s economy rocked by a one-two-punch of spiking energy prices this summer and the credit crisis this fall, our nation needs a president with a clear sense of how to free our nation from dependency on oil and a plan to get America back to work. And with climate change continuing unchecked, we need a president that will take the lead in building a post-carbon energy system. A national project to build a new, clean energy economy is the right answer to these interlinking challenges, and Obama knows it.

From Time:

[Obama] has a clearer handle on the big picture, on how various policy components fit together, and a strong sense of what his top priority would be. He wants to launch an “Apollo project” to build a new alternative-energy economy. His rationale for doing so includes some hard truths about the current economic mess: “The engine of economic growth for the past 20 years is not going to be there for the next 20. That was consumer spending. Basically, we turbocharged this economy based on cheap credit.” But the days of easy credit are over, Obama said, “because there is too much deleveraging taking place, too much debt.” A new economic turbocharger is going to have to be found, and “there is no better potential driver that pervades all aspects of our economy than a new energy economy … That’s going to be my No. 1 priority when I get into office.

As Klein points out, this is a big step for Obama, who has been reluctant to state his top priorities in the past. And Obama couldn’t have made a smarter pick.

Alongside efforts to heal our sick, train and educate a new generation of highly-skilled workers, and create whole new technologies and industries that can put America back to work, we need to develop the clean, affordable and abundant new energy sources that will power our nation’s economy for the century ahead.

It is time to launch a series of strategic investments that support our nation’s innovators and entrepreneurs as they create and deploy new clean energy technologies; build a smarter and more efficient new electrical grid; help retool Detroit to produce the most advanced, efficient cars on the road; and spark new industries that put Americans to work installing solar panels and wind turbines, building new high speed rail lines and efficient public transit systems, and retrofitting our homes and businesses to save both energy and money.

In so doing, we will free our nation from the volatility of oil shocks and our dependency on depleting and dangerous fossil fuels. We will transform our nation from the leading global polluter to the leader in solutions to our global climate crisis. And we will spark an engine of economic growth powerful enough to launch America into prosperous times and create new pathways into the middle class for millions more Americans.

On November 5th, it will be time for Barack Obama take up the task he has set for himself and inspire our nation to launch a new national project to build the clean energy economy we need. I for one cannot wait for that day.

16 Responses to “Obama’s Top Priority: Spark a New Energy Economy”

  1. 1 Mattie Reitman Oct 28th, 2008 at 12:33 am

    well, that’s damn exciting.

  2. 2 Willie Oct 28th, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    Obama currently doesn’t even voice support for many of the essential changes we need to see. Why trust that if elected he’s going to lead the way to a clean energy revolution? Obama doesn’t support a moratorium on the construction of new coal-fired power plants. He talks about “clean coal” as though it were an actual legitimate thing. He supports off-shore oil drilling which in addition to being another notch in the barack “dirty energy” obama belt, is clearly an instance of him playing into this industry-lie that offshore drilling’s going to get us off of middle eastern oil. He supports new nuclear power. He’s a huge cheerleader of big industrial ethanol.

    My point here isn’t to say that you shouldn’t vote for him. I just want to offer a counter-point to the celebratory tone of the original post here which seems to be saying that obama is the flawless savior of us all. (no disrespect intended here Jesse, just how it reads to me)

    I voted for Obama because I feel that he would respond quicker and better to grassroots pressure on an array of issues than McCain. However I don’t exactly trust him. There’s a quote from some Sierra Club guy from back in the day that says, “politicians are like weather veins and our job is to make the wind blow.” I voted for Obama because i think he’s the most well-greased weather vein with any real chance of getting up on the roof,” but it strikes me as naive and dangerous for environmentalists to put so much faith in him. Even if his record was better on energy, to go so far as to campaign for him or otherwise play into the whole messianic tone around him feels to me like a real betrayal of the basic grassroots ethic – that the people should have the power.

    Suppose that young environmentally-conscious voters believe that Obama’s got all the right answers and initiatives on energy. So they vote for him and then, trusting so deeply in his leadership, they maintain unwavering support throughout Obama’s continued advocacy for coal, nukes and other bad ideas. What incentive will Obama have to pursue better policies on energy? What kind of environmental platforms could we expect from 2012’s presidential candidates? Where is the peoples’ power to change things?

    Now suppose that we vote for Obama and he gets elected. We never really had a “belief” in him as anything more than another politician being pulled in every direction by special interests, public opinion and hopefully some personal conviction and basic goodwill. So it doesn’t hurt so bad, like we’ve been betrayed by our father, when he pours money into “clean coal” research. It doesn’t hurt your feelings. It’s just obnoxious. It doesn’t hurt so much and we don’t hesitate to respond by raising a stink over it and holding him accountable. And what if we raise a stink over every dirty energy mis-step this fellow makes?

    The question here is what do you think would be more a more effective means of influencing Obama’s energy policy: grassroots pressure or unconditional praise? I believe that we the grassroots should approach the electoral apparatus strategically and if that means vote for a particular candidate then that’s what we should do. But we’re going to lose populist power and lose ground on our issues if we yield our very hope to any individual ever.

  3. 3 Jesse Jenkins Oct 28th, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    Willie, I think you misinterpret what I’m celebrating in this post. I’m celebrating the fact that the man who is increasingly likely to be the next president of the United States sees the need to build a new energy economy as his top priority. That’s a HUGE victory for the long and hard work of this grassroots movement (and the intellectual framework developed by people like the Apollo Alliance, Breakthrough Institute, Green for All, Center for American Progress and many more).

    It’s taken a LONG time for politicians (and the public) to recognize how critical energy is to our economic, ecological and physical wellbeing. After all, energy is the lifeblood of modern civilization. Until recently (and with a tragically brief exception in the 1970s), it’s been all too invisible. Now the problems of our current energy system, and the opportunities inherent in building a new one are finally becoming apparent. It’s about time…

    So THAT I will celebrate, and I will do so with no holds barred. I hope cynicism doesn’t prevent you from feeling similarly victorious, Willie. It’d be a shame to avoid hope out of fear of disappointment.

    I do however agree entirely with your assessment of the work to be done after Nov. 5th. As I said in the post, it’ll be time for Obama to begin his work to deliver on this promise and inspire our nation to build a new energy economy. What I didn’t mention was OUR role, but that omission does not mean I think our work is done. Far from it. November 5th will begin a new era for our movement, a time when all the political capital we have built (and are building), and all the networks, grassroots energy, and intellectual clarity we’ve developed will have to brought to bear. We have the biggest opportunity to advance our objectives in decades. That of course does not mean it is time to relax and put our trust in Obama to deliver. It means it’s time to redouble (or re-triple!) our efforts and ensure that Obama’s weather vane has a gale force wind blowing in the right direction.

    For the next seven days, I’m devoting all of my spare time to ensuring that window of opportunity is open. If McCain wins, our work becomes infinitely harder. So I won’t just be casting my ballot for Obama, but volunteering to staff a call center that will make tens of thousands of calls into battleground states in the final days of this election. On November 4th, I hope to celebrate one victory. On November 5th, I’ll prepare myself for the new chapter ahead. I hope you’ll all be doing something similar.

    Seven days. No regrets.

  4. 4 Willie Oct 28th, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    well i think you and i see eye to eye on a good bit here but the glaring difference in your perspective and mine seems to be our attitudes towards obama. i think we agree fully on the preference for Obama rather than McCain as a president that’s basically going to be a little easier for us influence. however you say he “sees the need to build a new energy economy as his top priority” but at the same time has an energy policy pretty similar to McCain’s. he supports coal, nukes, industrial ethanol and oil drilling. so i’m not sure what this new energy economy he’s talking about actually means if it’s all the same stuff as the old one.

    you seem in your response to my post to characterize me as cynical and hopeless. this isn’t so. you probably don’t even really think that, but again that’s how it reads to me. my point that i think you’re misconstruing is that we must keep our faith and our hope in we the people, not in any one individual person ever. that’s what grassroots means to me. that’s what democracy means to me. we the people.

    i commend you and appreciate you working the phones and all. it’s a fine tactic towards the ends of electing a candidate we think we’ll be able to influence which is a fine tactic towards ending the era of nukes and fossil fuels and bringing in the era of clean, decentralized, community-controlled energy. it does concern me however to see a large portion, or a vocal portion of the environmental movement promoting obama as a savior. which your previous post still comes off as to me.

    excluding the fact that his dirty energy platform is just like McCain’s in your blogpost to ighih is not insignificant. it does contribute to painting a picture of investing our faith and hope in obama without actually looking at his record.

    anyway, check this grist article out. it’s pretty good. it kind of bridges what you’re saying with what i’m saying. it’s in three parts but the middle part pretty much covers all the bases. here it is: http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2008/10/17/12590/585 (forgive me. i don’t know how to make hyperlinks.)

    and i would be interested to hear you speak to the fact that he supports all these things and how you figure this into his new energy economy thing.

    oh also, i do agree that him having said energy is his top priority is worth celebrating. but all that means is that we’ve created enough pressure for him to say what we want to hear as well as what the power companies want to hear. so yeah that’s a milestone of our movement but i’m not going to paint obama as a clean energy hero until he stops supporting new fossil fuel infrastructure and starts really showing me something new.


  5. 5 Jesse Jenkins Oct 28th, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    “my point that i think you’re misconstruing is that we must keep our faith and our hope in we the people, not in any one individual person ever. that’s what grassroots means to me. that’s what democracy means to me. we the people.”

    I’m in 100% agreement there, Willie.

    “his dirty energy platform is just like McCain’s”

    This is where we part ways. Obama’s energy platform is hardly like McCain’s, and if you read Robert’s pieces at Grist, you know where they are different. I think Roberts nails the distinctions, and need for Obama’s political maneuverings clearly in the posts you link to (which I’ve read), and for the same reasons as Roberts is still a vocal Obama supporter, so am I.

    Yes, Obama has given grudging and politically calculated vocal support for “clean” coal, drilling and nukes, all with conditional provisions attached. But as Roberts makes clear, Obama did so because “We the people” weren’t behind him if he stood in opposition.

    Let’s face it: we got rolled by the oil industry and their Republican stooges on the drilling issue. The public wanted it. Even a majority of California’s supported expanded offshore drilling at the height of it. Obama had to accept some kind of drilling provisions in his energy plan, or he’d continue to get hammered and lose over it. Remember that McCain was his strongest in the polls when gas prices were the #1 issue and Drill Baby Drill was the mantra of the day.

    The same thing happened on coal. A 1Sky organizer caught Biden on tape saying clean coal was better suited for China than for use in the good old US of A. Republicans pounced, pounding Obama and Biden on it, until Biden had to make a very public correction of his statements and shill for clean coal. Again, the public isn’t with us yet, so neither are our candidates.

    So, I think we are both in agreement about the fundamentals: it’s We the People who dictate things here, and we as a movement haven’t done our work well enough yet to get We the People – and therefore Obama – lined up behind our agenda. We’ve got a LOT of work yet.

    Where we seem to differ is on how we “spin” Obama’s energy plan and campaign statements. You call his energy plan “just like McCain’s” and I celebrate his commitment to building a new energy economy. Both are pretty valid interpretations of where Obama is at. It’ll be up to the work we do as a movement over the months ahead to see where his policy agenda ends up.

  6. 6 willie Oct 30th, 2008 at 11:53 am

    word. well here’s to an ever-growing movement.

  7. 7 ntwari armel brousel Nov 5th, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    first,congratulation to obama,it is so wonderfull to have a black president,it real democracy.obama for LIFEEEEEEEE.

    that is my happiness i have in my life.
    god bless obama and their family.

    thank you so much.

  8. 8 Rick Nov 5th, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    I enjoyed your discussion and echo sentiments from both of you. I too was very disappointed when I heard Obama talking about “clean’ coal, drilling and nukes. I held out hope though when he hinted at conditions to these possibilities. My definite hope was that it was primarily a political move not to offend potential supporters who believe that these things are necessary or desirable. Our job is to continue to educate and keep the pressure on, especially with senators and representatives. I think Barack knows what really needs to happen and he will lead in that direction. It was obvious the oil companies had McCain in their pockets. They financed his campaign.

  9. 9 ariyanna Nov 19th, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    I love Obama and no one can take it away…………

  10. 10 musa sumbundu Dec 17th, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    I realy like Obama, may God give u long life, i love u…

  11. 11 jesse Feb 16th, 2009 at 2:17 am


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About Jesse

Jesse Jenkins is an energy and climate policy analyst, advocate, and blogger. Jesse is the Director of Energy and Climate Policy at the Breakthrough Institute in Oakland, California, where he works to develop and advance new energy solutions to power America's future, secure our energy freedom, and halt global warming. He joined Breakthrough in June 2008 and previously directed the Breakthrough Generation fellowship program for young clean energy leaders. Jesse worked previously as a Research and Policy Associate at the Renewable Northwest Project in Portland, OR, helping to advance the development of the Pacific Northwest's abundant renewable energy potential. A prolific author and blogger on clean energy issues, Jesse is the founder and chief editor of WattHead - Energy News and Commentary, a featured writer and advisory board member at the Energy Collective, and a frequent contributor at Forbes.com, Huffington Post, and Grist.org.

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