Obama to unveil energy agenda amid mounting GOP challenges

President Obama will outline his latest broad energy-policy goal Thursday amid uncertainty in Congress about energy legislation and mounting Republican challenges to the administration’s climate change agenda.

In remarks at Penn State University on Thursday, Obama will detail a plan to make commercial buildings more energy-efficient. The central goal of the proposal will be reducing the overall energy intensity of commercial buildings by 20 percent by 2020.

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The proposal comes as the Obama administration grapples with how to effectively achieve its energy policy goals now that hopes for a climate change bill have been dashed, prospects for significant energy legislation are murky and the new House Republican majority is angling to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) agenda.

The fate of the energy-efficiency proposal, much of which is subject to congressional approval, is unclear, given the new House Republican majority. The White House has proposed paying for the plan with money saved from eliminating oil tax breaks, but such a proposal faces opposition from Republicans in both chambers.

Obama will outline a multi-part plan for making commercial buildings more efficient, which, if completed, would save business owners more than $40 billion per year, according to the White House.

As part of the plan, the Small Business Administration will work to encourage lenders to give more financing for commercial retrofits. In addition, the administration will call on Congress to provide grants for local and state governments that streamline building codes and regulations as well as provide new tax credits for energy-efficient buildings.

The president will call on corporate executives and heads of major universities to retrofit their buildings to save energy. He will also announce that he is using existing authorities to establish a program to train workers to retrofit buildings.

Obama will detail the cost of his proposal in his upcoming budget request. A senior administration official and a spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget both refused to give a cost estimate of the proposal.

“There is a lot of information in the budget and it will be out in due course,” the senior administration official said.

A White House plan to eliminate tax breaks for the oil industry will pay for the energy-efficiency proposal, the administration official said. The oil industry tax breaks proposal will also be outlined in Obama’s budget request.

But some lawmakers, even a key Senate Democrat, have said that the proposal to eliminate oil industry tax breaks has little chance of passing, complicating the White House’s plans to pay for its energy-efficiency proposal.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said Monday, “I would be surprised if [the proposal to eliminate oil tax breaks] got a great deal of traction in the 112th Congress.”

In another indication that Obama’s energy agenda will face significant roadblocks in Congress, House Republicans are also raising concerns about a broad proposal to generate the country’s electricity from low-carbon sources. Obama announced the proposal to get 80 percent of the country’s electricity from wind, solar, nuclear, natural gas and coal with carbon capture technology at his State of the Union address.

House Republicans have raised concerns that Obama’s “clean energy standard” will give too many advantages to renewable energy.