True, in today’s Washington Obama’s budget might be close to meaningless, unlikely to stand as a framework for the country’s actual spending in FY 2014, soon to be a forgotten waste of ink and paper sitting in the recycling bin while the actors in the capital’s tired fiscal drama stumble through a dreary, media-hyped script that drags us to yet another manufactured brink of disaster, scarring the economy and the hapless politicians’ own already badly blemished credibility along the way.
Still, you’ve got to hand it to the president: With the document officially released on Wednesday he pulls together all of the initiatives he has talked about in the past couple of years, including on the campaign trail, and is coming at the opposition once more with a robust clean energy agenda. Why not, right? Despite the hurdles and occasional stumbles, he’s been pretty successful so far, with solar and wind power surging to record levels.
At its heart, the plan is quite familiar: Get rid of $4 billion in annual subsidies for fossil fuels – an effort that has thus far been unsuccessful – and use that savings to ramp up spending on research and development and deployment of renewables, advanced vehicles and energy efficiency initiatives.
There’s $615 million to boost the use and drive down the cost of solar, wind, geothermal and marine energy, and $282 million for advanced biofuels research.
There’s $147 million for a smarter grid, and $80 million for improving renewable energy grid integration. ARPA-E – the program that supports truly cutting-edge ventures – gets another $379 million.
There’s $575 million for advanced vehicle technologies, as the president continues to pursue his goal of 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. He probably won’t get there, but that’s not going to stop him from trying.
And speaking of goals, there’s that one he talked about just a few months ago: doubling American energy productivity by 2030. What does that mean? Efficiency, getting twice as much out of each unit of energy consumed. To help make that happen, the president proposes a “Race to the Top” for energy efficiency and grid modernization, a competitive program meant to inspire innovation by states and localities.
“The proposed Race to the Top sets both an impressive and an achievable goal,” the Environmental Defense Fund’s Elgie Holstein said in a statement. “By rewarding state innovations for energy productivity, this proposal forges a new kind of federal-state partnership that will accelerate the transition to more efficient, less polluting energy sources, reduce household energy costs and cut harmful pollution – including climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions.”
As enthusiastic as the EDF was, the solar folks might have outdone them. In a press release, the Solar Energy Industries Association said: “We praise the President for emphasizing that a transition to sustainable energy sources is vital – and that the U.S. must lead it…. “We are tremendously grateful to the President for his leadership and efforts in bringing about increased renewable energy deployment, and we urge Congress to work with the Administration to pass and implement sensible energy policy.”
That said, there are elements that might divide greens. The president continues robust support for carbon capture research, a nifty concept that is struggling to fulfill its promise; among other things, the budget includes “a one-time, $25 million inducement prize for the first natural gas combined cycle power plant to integrate large-scale carbon capture and storage. There’s also $735 million for the Office of Nuclear Energy, “which includes funding for advanced small modular reactors.”