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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

U.S. Becomes Net Energy Exporter

Air Date: Week of

Podesta claims that the clean energy future is inevitable. The Nellis Solar field in Nevada contains 70,000 solar panels that generate 25 gigawatts a year. (Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons)

Harry Truman was president the last time we exported more energy than we imported. Now complete energy independence may be within reach as President Obama plans to tap all domestic sources to achieve that goal. Host Bruce Gellerman asks John Podesta, chair of the progressive think tank the Center for American Progress, about kicking our foreign oil habit.


GELLERMAN: President Obama says the United States should have an “all of the above” energy independence policy and go full throttle exploiting the nation’s natural gas, coal, oil and renewable energy resources. But it should be noted that last year, for the first time in over 60 years, the U.S. exported more energy than the country imported.

In fact, just a decade ago, energy wasn’t even among our top 25 exports, today - measured in dollars - it’s number one. For John Podesta those facts are fuel for an opinion piece he recently penned in the Wall Street Journal. Podesta was President Clinton’s Chief of Staff, now he’s chair of the progressive think tank, the Center for American Progress. The headline for his Op-Ed - “We Don’t Need More Foreign Oil and Gas.”

PODESTA: Well, you know, we're now selling a lot of coal, a lot of natural gas but I think in the near future we're going to be able to become a major, a major, export powerhouse.

GELLERMAN: We’re always told energy security equals national security, so I guess this bodes well in terms of America’s geopolitics.

PODESTA: Well, I certainly believe it does, I think there are several dimensions to that. First of all, the stranglehold that we have from our oil suppliers will be reduced or eliminated, as we become energy sufficient. And secondly, the fact that most people don't realize, I think, is that half of our trade deficit comes from importing oil. So that money could be kept home, used home, invested at home, creating American jobs, rather than sending it overseas. You know, sometimes these statistics are confusing 'cause oil is imported, refined, and then exported, but for the first time in 20 years we’ve, overall, our production is about 50 percent of our consumption.

John Podesta. (Photo: Center for American Progress)

GELLERMAN: The President in his State of the Union address talk about needing the whole mix: natural gas, renewables, wind. Did you find it curious that he did not specifically mention nuclear power?

PODESTA: I wasn’t really surprised, I think that the President has been a supporter of nuclear power, he has talked about it in the past. They’ve put a significant amount of money into loan guarantees for new nuclear plants, but I think Fukushima really changed the dynamic on this - not so much in terms of the need to insure the security of nuclear power plants, but fundamentally it changed the economics of nuclear power. The only countries that, where they are still pretty much full speed ahead, are China and India.

GELLERMAN: What about coal? We get about almost half of all electricity from coal, that’s not very clean.

PODESTA: It is not very clean. It has a profound health effect. I don’t think you’re going to see a lot, and maybe no more, new coal-fired power plants built, and you’ll see a fair amount of the very oldest plants, that have been operating for decades and decades, be retired in the near future and that capacity switched to lower polluting, safer and cleaner natural gas and renewables. That will have a profound health effect on our public and reduce exposure to those toxic chemicals. So you have a very big upside for the economy in that regard as well.

GELLERMAN: So, Mr. Podesta, you were Chief of Staff for President Clinton, if you had the President’s ear now, you were his Chief of Staff, what would you tell him that he doesn’t already know in terms of clean energy?

PODESTA: I would tell him to even be more ambitious than he was in the State of the Union. You know, I thought it was great, he spent a lot of time on clean energy; we at the Center for American Progress, we’ve urged the administration to do that. I think he had some new ideas in that regard.

But as I said, I’d try to even be more ambitious, to set a goal for this country to be an exporter again, in a very substantial way, of clean energy, and clean technology. And to do it in a way that makes the U.S. the number one powerhouse in this sector within a decade.

GELLERMAN: Do you think that the clean energy path we’re on is going to happen no matter who is President?

PODESTA: Well, I think that the direction we’re going to go in is not really dependent on who is President - I think that we’re going to head in this direction - but the speed at which we get there is certainly dependent on the programs and policies of an administration, and I think it’s fair to judge what happened in the previous administration and compare it to what has happened in this administration.

There’s just much more investment to clean energy than there was in the Bush Administration, and as a result, we’ve seen technologies like batteries used in the transportation sector for electric vehicles, etc., which were invented in the United States, which almost disappeared in terms of manufacturing, will be back to about 30 percent of the market within a couple of years.

GELLERMAN: Boy, Mr. Podesta, have you always been such an optimist when it comes to clean energy and a clean energy future?

PODESTA: I’m just an optimist in general. (Laughs.)

GELLERMAN: (Laughs.)

PODESTA: But I believe, you know, I’m a lawyer, and mostly I’ve been involved in politics and public policy, but I’ve also been a science geek since I was a kid. And I really believe that the application of innovation and science can, you know, help solve and resolve the problems going forward. And this is, I think, an exciting sector to be involved with because, you know, there is a tremendous opportunity to invent, to innovate, to create wealth, and create a stronger and better economy.

GELLERMAN: John Podesta is former Chief of Staff for President Clinton, and chair of the Center for American Progress.



John Podesta argues, “America is poised to be the world's clean energy leader” in a Wall Street Journal op-ed

Read the Government’s 2012 Annual Energy Outlook


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