ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
President Barack Obama has said he wants to change the way Americans use energy. Here's a promise he made two weeks after the election.
President-elect BARACK OBAMA: When I'm president, any governor who's willing to promote clean energy will have a partner in the White House. Any company that's willing to invest in clean energy will have an ally in Washington. And any nation that's willing to join the cause of combating climate change will have an ally in the United States of America.
SIEGEL: Mr. Obama has tried to back up that promise with a fistful of dollars.
But as NPR's Christopher Joyce reports, many of those energy allies are waiting for more than money.
CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: The president says he wants his administration to be a leader and a partner when it comes to green energy and climate change. And his economic stimulus package throws about $39 billion at energy projects. But so far, only a few checks have been written, primarily to states, for weatherizing homes. The president has also directed the federal government to buy hybrid electric vehicles and to start designing a new electricity grid to deliver more solar and wind energy.
Mr. Obama has earned praise for appointing a Nobel Prize winner and green energy advocate to run the Department of Energy. Steven Chu is a scientist's scientist, though he admits he's still in the deep end of the pool when it comes to negotiating Washington politics.
One accomplishment Chu can point to is an overhaul of the department's Loan Guarantee Program for energy research projects, famous for long paperwork delays.
Secretary STEVEN CHU (Department of Energy): The Loan Guarantee Program has been completely overhauled. What would have taken about four years, we're trying to compress that to months.
JOYCE: Most of Mr. Obama's promises on energy and climate remain works in progress, and there are plenty that have seen no significant action. There is no tax on windfall profits for oil companies, for example.
And from the point of view of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the list includes more things. Karen Harbert, the chamber's energy expert, says the president hasn't done much to encourage nuclear power or to seek energy independence. She says opening up offshore oil drilling could help solve that problem, but Mr. Obama has postponed lease sales.
Ms. KAREN HARBERT (President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce): We don't have a magic switch to just switch to some other fuel immediately. So let's produce it at home, create those jobs here at home, and the opportunity is right on their watch.
JOYCE: On the climate front, environmental groups applaud the team of experts the president has appointed, especially the creation of a climate adviser in his Cabinet.
The major climate policy change pending in Washington hasn't come from the White House, however, but from Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman from California. It's legislation that would put a cap on the amount of greenhouse gases industry can emit. It also allows companies to trade emissions permits to ease the burden of living within that cap. Climate experts say it's the most powerful tool there is for reigning in carbon emissions.
So far, the White House has neither endorsed nor opposed this so-called cap-and-trade bill, which has puzzled some climate experts. Abyd Karmali is head of carbon markets at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. He was in Washington recently at a carbon trade expo.
Mr. ABYD KARMALI (Managing Director and Global Head of Carbon Emissions, Merrill Lynch): Most critical is going to be whether President Obama is successful in engaging with the minority party in the House and in the Senate and in convincing them that enactment of a cap-and-trade scheme is something that should be done this year.
JOYCE: Mr. Obama will have to work on members of his own party, as well, who are skeptical of cap and trade, but the president has other options. Leslie Carothers, the president of a Washington think tank called the Environmental Law Institute, says the administration can always go around Congress.
Ms. LESLIE CAROTHERS (President, Environmental Law Institute): Lisa Jackson, the new head of EPA had said, hey, you know, if Congress chooses not to go forward with this, we will go forward under the Clean Air Act and use our authority under that statute.
JOYCE: In fact, EPA has announced that it has the legal authority to do that.
Whatever grade the Obama administration is getting now, it's worth noting that it did take a lot longer than 100 days to build an economy based on fossil fuels.
Christopher Joyce, NPR News.
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