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Can Obama really compromise with the GOP?

Where -- if anywhere -- can President Obama and the incoming House of Representatives find compromise? A self-reflective Obama Wednesday came back to one issue in particular: energy policy.

"I don't think there's anyone in America who thinks that we have an energy policy that works," the president said. And then he pointed to related policies that might find bipartisan accord. "Whether it's natural gas or energy efficiency or building electric cars, we have to move forward."

All three ideas, which Obama supplemented later in his press conference with a nod to restarting the nuclear industry, could have found support in a Republican administration, and they reflect a much more traditional approach to energy policy than what the Democrats tried this year with their cap-and-trade proposals. Instead of a comprehensive energy policy, this is piecemeal, based on promoting a few particular paths to greening the economy through subsidy and other government action.

This approach doesn't produce rational energy markets. But it is politically rational.

This way, consumers don't see the costs of the policy on their energy bills -- they're just hidden in their income tax withholding -- and lawmakers get to send federal support to constituencies in their districts. Enough environmentally-minded lawmakers tolerate things such as support for coal because, in return, enough others will tolerate some government help for renewables, or some such compromise. Nothing that seems too drastic -- stuff both sides, as the president argued Wednesday, could vote for. Sometimes the resulting government interventions are helpful, such as fuel efficiency standards. Sometimes, in a race to deliver federal money to interest groups in the guise of helping the environment, they are counterproductive, such as the government's support for corn ethanol. The trick for Obama will be to secure support for the former and not the latter.

Obama seemed to hint at how such a compromise might work next year -- support for nuclear power, offshore drilling and natural gas, which could enrich areas of GOP control in Appalachia and elsewhere, in return for Republican approval of robust federal energy efficiency programs and some green technology subsidies. All of that is better than corn ethanol. The president, for example, is right that using recently-discovered domestic natural gas reserves, the burning of which produces about half the carbon emissions as coal, could significantly reduce emissions from electricity generation.

This approach to energy policy is much more costly to the federal government than cap-and-trade would have been, which could derail the effort in a deficit-hawkish House. And the president was clear -- and correct -- about what this would not be: a complete solution to energy independence or climate change. Still, Obama insisted, "When it comes to something like energy...let's not wait. Let's start making progress on those things we do agree on." As long as this process of picking winners and losers doesn't do more harm than good. And that's a planet-sized "if."

By Stephen Stromberg  | November 3, 2010; 3:41 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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Next: Obama, Boehner and McConnell: a clash awaits


Did anyone keep track of the Obama vitriol about the Republicans? Will Obama work with the Republicans or will he expect the Republicans to work with him?

More importantly, how much poison will be added to the well during the lame duck session?

Posted by: kitchendragon50 | November 3, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

I think it has been more than obvious that the GOP has absolutely no plan on compromising with anyone.

The next two years will be much more of the same. No jobs, spending on the rich, cutting off the poor working class, etc etc etc.

It may be a little bit more entertaining with some of the rightie loonies elected.

Posted by: racerdoc | November 3, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

You say, "The president, for example, is right that using recently-discovered domestic natural gas reserves, the burning of which produces about half the carbon emissions as coal, could significantly reduce emissions from electricity generation."

Actually, no. The problem is that these highly touted supplies of natural gas are unconventional, highly polluting shale gas. The "50% cleaner" figure that is commonly thrown around applies to conventional natural gas, and only to the consumption side of the equation. But though the finished product may burn more cleanly, shale gas production is itself very energy-intensive -- much more so than conventional gas production -- and correspondingly shale gas production is a major polluter. Indeed, by some estimates shale may actually be worse than coal from a climate change perspective, because of these emissions on the production side. (See, e.g., this preliminary study by Dr. Robert Howarth, who reportedly will soon publish a more comprehensive, peer-reviewed study on the same topic: At a minimum, it is clear that the "50% cleaner burning figure" is way, way off.

Air quality in shale gas production areas suffers dramatically. For example, a study by Dr. Al Armendariz, now an EPA Regional Administrator but then a professor at SMU, showed that oil and gas production -- mostly gas from the Barnett Shale -- produced more air emissions in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area than all vehicle traffic in the region. Sparsely populated areas of Wyoming such as the Pinedale Anticline have gone from having pristine air to being frequently out of compliance with federal ozone standards.

Add to this the fact that it is increasingly clear that serious and often irremediable water pollution problems are endemic to the industry. Toxic hydrofracturing fluids often make their way to aquifers, from which they cannot be removed.

Natural gas expansion is anything but a solution to climate change or other environmental problems. Your conclusion notes that picking winners and losers can do more harm than good. If the role of shale gas is expanded, it will certainly prove that point.

Posted by: JerseyTom | November 3, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

Corn fuel ethanol stinks

Posted by: cappcharlie | November 3, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

to all,

the GOP had better NOT "compromise with" obama, lest they suffer DEFEAT in 2012, along with a lot more DIMocRATS than we beat yesterday! = we "rank & file" voters did NOT send the new members to Congress to "compromise". - instead, we sent them there to represent US, the voters!

for well over 40% of voters, the SOLE goals for the next 2 years are:
1. defeating obama/the leftists,
2. overturning the "obamacare",
3. ending "wasteful spending" at every level of government
4. cutting taxes to every American, to no more than 25% of gross income.
(there is so much waste, fraud & abuse in the federal government, that NO more taxes would be needed if we simply STOPPED wasting money & ROLLED BACK all the needless BOONDOGGLES passed by obama/the DIMocRATS/the extremist left.)

just my opinion.

NOTE: the TEA PARTY welcomes every real patriot, who wishes to REFORM our government & return it to CONSTITUTIONAL principles. - your local city/county/parish TEA PARTY group is the place to look for help in fixing the MESS that our government is. ====> COME & JOIN US!

yours, TN46
coordinator, CCTPP

Posted by: texasnative46 | November 3, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

I note that texasnative46 said nothing about Obama's energy policy, or the column.

Posted by: michael_chaplan | November 3, 2010 9:13 PM | Report abuse

michael_chaplan; all,

in point of fact, there is NOTHING in obama's "energy policy" that is worth commenting on, except to say that it's another massive DIMocRAT/leftist/statist BOONDOGGLE & WASTEFUL in the extreme.= i mentioned CUTTING WASTE in my previous comment.- dumping obama's entire "agenda" is a GOOD place to start.

note to all: IF you are as disgusted with the DIMocRATS, RINOs, corrupt union bosses, SELF-important/"do nothing" bureaucrats & obama as most of us TEA PARTIERS are, come JOIN your city/county/parish TEA PARTY group & help us fix the mess that BHO & the Congress has made of our country.
you will be WARMLY welcomed & immediately "put to work" to help us elect people in 2012, who will ACTUALLY do what we citizens want.

yours, TN46
coordinator, CCTPP

Posted by: texasnative46 | November 4, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

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