Does presidential leadership matter for our energy and environmental future?
Not so much, according to some observers. Pointing to the “black swan” of oil and gas fracking–and the consequent, dramatic increase in American reserves and supplies–they conclude that we’re doing just fine without engaged presidents, thank you.
In fact, the ongoing absence of presidential leadership is causing the nation to miss major opportunities. It may also be laying the groundwork for grievous problems for future generations.
Let’s look at three issues where presidential leadership could be decisive–and its continuing absence could be destructive:
—Arctic Oil Rush. As recently reported in the Guardian (U.K.), insurance analysts have joined environmentalists in warning of calamitous ecosystem consequences from Arctic oil drilling. This issue cries out for presidential leadership, reconciling local economic needs of Alaskans with national interests in ecosystem protection. The issue might well be framed in terms of multi-generational concerns and national security.
–Future Liability for Unforeseen Consequences of Fracking. Fracking is yielding a bonanza in oil and gas supplies, truly changing the game in the United States–and soon enough, the world. In the 21st century, it may well be that the states, rather than the national government, are appropriately the primary guardians of the long-term protection of the resources involved. Where there is clearly a national role–one that likely requires presidential leadership to overcome regional and factional divisions in Congress–is in planning for unforeseen dangers. Inevitably, there will be additional risks occasioned by any new energy practice such as fracking. The question is: will the risks of future liability be clearly defined now, so that those who are profiting will set aside sufficient reserves to insure such risks? Otherwise, fracking risks setting off a new round of that dubious practice so sadly prevalent in recent American history: privatizing profit, socializing risks and losses and liabilities.
–Transition from Renewable Energy Subsidies. Renewable energy is the object of significant state and federal subsidies. They were dramatically increased in the federal government stimulus in recent years. Now, many such subsidies are being phased out, or are under increased scrutiny against competing priorities. A recent article, “The Pending Subsidy Cliff, And the Way Out,” summarizes a report, “Beyond Boom and Bust,” presenting policy options. The report is drafted by experts at the Breakthrough Institute, the Brookings Institution and the World Resources Institute. Whether one agrees with their specific prescriptions, there is an undoubted need for tough thinking and guided public discussion and decisions, with an eye toward the future.
Will the Next President Lead?
Pick your politician, pick your party, pick your congressional-presidential partisan-regional alignment: there is a longstanding, ongoing failure of the United States to develop an energy policy over the past two decades. It is insufficient to deliver orotund speeches suggesting that energy-environment issues are a top priority–and relegate them in the second and third tier when governing.
To decline to act–to refuse to do the hard thinking necessary for smart action–is to empower others to hold our destiny in their hands, subject to their whim. It can result in our generation taking away options from the rising generations.
Will the next president change all that? Only if we the people force the politicians to move these issues front-and-center, a top priority in action as well as rhetoric.
Presidential Leadership Needed for Energy, Environment