Obama Proposes Some Big Changes to America’s Energy Infrastructure

President Barack Obama speaks at a solar energy facility - Ethan Miller/Getty Images
President Barack Obama speaks at a solar energy facility – Ethan Miller/Getty Images

As President Obama has entered his waning years in office he has become as busy as ever, particularly when it comes to climate and environmental issues. Having pushed his plan to fight climate change by accelerating clean energy development and aiming for substantial emissions cuts, he also put into place a Presidential Memorandum asking for a Quadrennial Energy Review.

And he just received the first installment.

“This first-ever review focuses on energy infrastructure and identifies the threats, risks, and opportunities for U.S. energy and climate security, enabling the federal government to translate policy goals into a set of integrated actions,” the Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis said in a press release, describing the Review’s function. “The QER seeks to identify vulnerabilities in the system and proposes major policy recommendations and investments to replace, expand, and modernize infrastructure where appropriate.”

The report is enormous and contains plenty of things that many people are not going to want to hear. Specifically, the report calls for some hefty overhauls to America’s infrastructure and advises that some significant changes will need to be made in the way energy is generated and disseminated if American life is to go on unabated. The nearly 350-page report is dense and rife with other concerns as well, covering concepts such as climate and weather-related threats, as well as the potential for danger from cyber criminals and hackers.

But the major sticking point and theme throughout the report is the fact that America’s infrastructure and energy systems are dated and are in rather desperate need of investment. That means increased prioritization on the development of green and clean energy sources, as well as rebuilding existing systems into more resilient, robust, and secure assets.

Well-informed and forward-looking decisions that lead to a more robust and resilient infrastructure can enable “substantial new economic, consumer service, climate protection, and system reliability benefits,” the report reads. “Good decisions on TS&D infrastructure can also provide flexibility in taking advantage of new opportunities to achieve our national energy objectives.”

The report not only lays out an agenda for prioritization of how the country should attack the climate and energy-related problems facing it, but also includes a number of recommendations for putting that agenda into action. Revisiting CO2 pipeline regulation, instituting new and agreeable national carbon policies, and continued study and monitoring of how and when needed materials — like fossil fuels — are being produced are among the items on the docket, meaning that if the review is to be taken seriously by legislators, there will be a lot of work to do.

It’s really no secret that the country’s infrastructure is in a state of incredible disrepair, but that hasn’t spurred much action from government officials. Collapsing bridges and crumbling freeways are really just the start, and as Congress and local governments across the country have fought over how to deal with the crisis, whether it be through gas tax increases or other solutions, the problem has only gotten worse.

But that’s just taking transportation infrastructure into account. The Obama administration also wants to take a good, hard look at our energy infrastructure, which includes how we’re transporting electricity and fossil fuels through pipelines and rail systems. Again, an immense undertaking, but an important element in the worsening crisis.

Of course, there is also a call for increased spending on the government’s part, which is likely to meet fierce and immediate resistance from Obama’s political opponents. According to Reuters, spending increases total up to roughly $15 billion, spread across tax credits and new programs meant to jump-start the processes outlined in the report. That money would go toward modernizing the existing energy grid, supporting the development of new, cleaner technologies, replacing older or faulty oil and gas pipelines, and improving rail and waterway infrastructure.

While the report is relatively hot off of the presses, it’s not hard to imagine how it will be received by Congress and industry leaders. The recommendations and findings of the report aren’t exactly groundbreaking, and really are a rehashing of what we already knew — chiefly, that we need to invest in cleaner energy sources and infrastructure — all while the national debt continues to balloon.

Now, getting leaders to act on or even seriously consider those recommendations is the real trick.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger
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