A former member of the Obama White House offered a glimpse into the future of energy policy in a recent New York Times piece.

Michael Greenstone’s time as an environmental economist at the White House is in the rearview mirror, and he is now teaching at M.I.T., but that doesn’t mean he’s stopped thinking about energy policy. 

The article says Greenstone felt that some of the benefits of the cap-and-trade bill that died over the summer were, “sometimes exaggerated.” Greenstone pointed out that whatever bill was proposed wouldn’t have been able to do anything about carbon emissions in China and India, and that by the time the bill was compromised into law, it may have been badly weakened.

However, the article says, “the death of cap-and-trade doesn’t have to mean the death of climate policy. The alternative revolves around much more, and much better organized, financing for clean energy research.”

And this is where Greenstone gets positive. He says there seems to be support from both parties for renewable energy mandates that would require federal investment in clean energy innovation.

As for big picture climate policy, the professor explains that the earliest that is likely to happen is 2013, and there are a few variables between now and then. The obvious ones are this year’s midterm elections and then the 2012 presidential election. If President Obama is reelected, he may have the political capital to spend on a new encompassing policy. But the new policy, Greenstone points out, may have to be rebranded and perhaps retooled after the failure of cap-and-trade this summer. If the elections go against Democrats in both the midterms and in 2012, then it is likely that nothing more than the Renewable Energy Standard will get accomplished.

So, while Greenstone is patiently waiting and remaining positive, it is unlikely the planet will slow its warming trends while Americans vote.

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