With the announcement of his new energy-environmental team last week, President-elect Barack Obama has signaled a clear intention of pursuing policies that differ sharply from those of his predecessor.
While some questions remain unresolved, one thing appears certain:
His choice for secretary of energy, the highly respected Nobel laureate Steven Chu, is no fan of fossil fuels. Chu's statements and policy positions suggest that he favors a shift away from one of the nation's â€” and Houston's â€” most important and strategic industries. If that is the case, it might be wise to consider how realistic such a shift would actually be.
In speeches, Chu has called fossil fuels the "culprit" in climate change. He says there is a "very pressing need" to find alternatives to gasoline and advocates converting solar energy into automobile fuel. According to the Wall Street Journal, he has called for "gradually ramping up gasoline taxes" (a position Obama has rejected because of the "additional burden" it would place on families). Once, famously, he termed coal "my worst nightmare."
Of course, Chu's positions underscore his larger goal of embracing renewable energy as a strategy for reducing global warming. Make no mistake: Climate change is a major issue that commands close attention and a thoughtful response. At the same time, it would be shortsighted to shape a strategy that ignores the essential role oil and gas must play in the nation's energy future.
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