The Long Game: Obama’s Record On Energy And Climate


Every now and again, it’s worth acquainting the deep narrative about a failed presidency with the facts. If a Republican had presided over the energy revolution of the past few years, you’d never hear the end of it. But shale has changed a lot:

Net oil imports have fallen from above 60% in 2005 to below 28% this year through September (see chart above). That marks the country’s lowest dependence on foreign sources of petroleum products since 1985, almost 30 years ago. The chart shows the profound impact of the shale oil revolution on America’s energy independence and the speed at which it happened – it took 20 years for the US dependence on oil imports to rise from 27.3% in 1985 to 60.3% in 2005, and then less than a decade to completely reverse that upward trend and bring net oil imports to below 28% by this year.

That’s quite some record for a president widely panned as “hating” the oil industry. Energy independence for the US – with huge dividends not only in lower oil prices but also in greater freedom of action in pivoting away from the Middle East – is within reach – a goal, like universal health insurance – that presidents have aimed for for decades. Has this made tackling climate change even harder? Not if you look at another part of the Obama years – the rise and rise of renewables, fostered in part by subsidies.

Today, the NYT lays out the remarkable new renewable energy environment at hand:

The cost of providing electricity from wind and solar power plants has plummeted over the last five years, so much so that in some markets renewable generation is now cheaper than coal or natural gas. Utility executives say the trend has accelerated this year, with several companies signing contracts, known as power purchase agreements, for solar or wind at prices below that of natural gas, especially in the Great Plains and Southwest, where wind and sunlight are abundant.

Those prices were made possible by generous subsidies that could soon diminish or expire, but recent analyses show that even without those subsidies, alternative energies can often compete with traditional sources.

So we have a big boom in shale and a simultaneous collapse in the expense of renewable fuels. We have far greater energy independence and the beginnings of a renewable energy revolution. On top of this, we have strict new fuel emissions standards, much tougher carbon emission standards and a pact with the Chinese to curtail carbon over the next few decades.

What, one wonders, will historians make of this record? I suspect a lot more than today’s pundits, don’t you?

Meep meep.