Under Obama, Tech Future Is Green

The newly reelected President appears to want to focus on green-technology business over the next four years. But the legislative road will not be ...
Taylor ProvostNovember 7, 2012

During his victory speech in Chicago early Wednesday, President Barack Obama maintained that while the nation may appear to be divided into red and blue, the future needs to be green in order for the country to live up to “its legacy as the global leader in technology and discovery and innovation, with all the good jobs and new businesses that follow.”

Throughout the campaign, Obama emphasized the need to invest in job-creating innovation and sustainable technologies, and Wednesday a postelection policy panel that included two former members of Congress who are now partners at international law firm K&L Gates predicted an explosion of environmental legislation and regulation over the next four years as the President begins to double down on his environmental-technology agenda.

“This is show time for the President,” said former Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.). “He’s clearly interested in clean energy, green tech, and climate change, but it’s going to be very difficult to have any kind of freestanding bill dealing with that.”

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Former Rep. Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.) agreed, saying the Republican majority in the House of Representatives would act as a brake on the President’s ambitions. “Any time he says he wants to spend money, Republicans will say we can’t afford it,” he said.

Gordon predicted the President would try to get around that roadblock by deploying executive powers that don’t require congressional approval, such as a combination of regulations and executive orders that would drive up the cost of fossil fuels to make green-energy solutions more attractive to business.

Cliff Rothenstein, a partner at K&L Gates and former office director at the Environmental Protection Agency, said during the discussion that he saw a looming conflict between the President’s goal to regulate fossil fuels, thereby driving his green agenda, and the need to create jobs. The President “is not going to want to have these regulations interfere with job creation,” said Rothenstein, who added that there are already about 90 regulations “ready to be proposed that will be coming down the track in 2013.”

Michael Evans, former counsel to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and a current K&L Gates partner, said House Republicans have a “sweet spot” for making research-and-development tax credits permanent. “But they also have a sour spot, which is the disagreement over tax incentives,” he said. “Republicans want to repeal existing energy tax incentives and that,” he added, will inevitably bring them into conflict with the Administration’s goals.

The sense of the panel was that going forward, it would not be easy going green.