This is President Obama’s week to detail his path for energizing America and to answer GOP-hopeful Romney’s scathing attacks. And while some of his responses will be pointed, others will be dulled -- most likely those discussing the potential of climate change on the U.S. economy.

When Obama accepts his party’s nomination for the U.S. presidency on Thursday, he will strike a reasoned tone. That is, the subject of global warming and of spending national resources to combat such an amorphous issue is one that his Republican opposition cherishes. Therefore, the president will approach it with a delicacy that conveys that he understands that his fellow-Americans are pinched but also in such a way that re-claims his resolve to create the next-wave of U.S. jobs through the federal funding of green innovations.

“We will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment ... when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal,” Obama intoned during his 2008 nomination.

But that idealism has been tempered in the wake of challenging times whereby people are mostly concerned with keeping their jobs. Still, Obama’s sense of duty is compelling him to keep alive the pursuit of the modern fuels and tools that would minimize heat-trapping emissions.

To that end, his outright support of a cap-and-trade system in which pollution limits are set and utilities would be given free market incentives to reach them has been set aside. Today, the goal is a “clean energy standard” that seeks to have 80 percent of all electric generation emanate from sustainable or nuclear energy, both of which have few such carbon releases. Or, that energy would come from natural gas-fueled or coal-powered generators that are equipped with the latest and greatest technologies.

It’s a policy change born out of necessity. It’s also one that sounds less threatening in today’s political tumult. But will it be embraced by the American people and by the industries that would have to live within that framework?

The short answer is that most people will give green energy and cleaner fuels the nod if they could be implemented in a cost-effective manner. And many utilities would do the same if they are provided a certain regulatory roadmap. The idea, nonetheless, will be met with resistance from coal-reliant utilities.

Central Divide

Indeed, the fork in the road is clearly marked: Romney is trying to appeal to those who are convinced that fossil fuels remain the most dependable and the cheapest form of electric generation while Obama is reaching out to those who think that such fuels are dirty and finite, and that sustainable energies are the path forward.

The debate, though, will get relegated to the mud pits. Romney, who governed Massachusetts as a moderate, is now mocking the same positions he once held: “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet,” Romney said during the Republican convention. “My promise is to help you and your family.”

Romney has said repeatedly that wind and solar energies are unreliable and cannot compete with coal unless they are heavily subsidized. Stumping through coal country in Ohio, he pledged his undying support to coal while demonizing Obama’s EPA and his administration for their “war on coal.”

The choice: Romney wants to reverse or prevent anymore incremental movements in environmental regulations while Obama says that coal’s fate is contingent on investing in pollution controls and advanced coal generation.

It all circles back to whether addressing climate change should be a U.S. policy goal and if so, just what methodology ought to be used. Here, Romney’s most recent comments within the context of his revised stance on climate change would connote that global warming is, at best, a distant problem in which we don’t have the financial luxury to address right now.

Obama’s position, conversely, is that the phenomenon is real and that it is man-made but that it is now impractical to set firm limits on greenhouse gas emissions. The nation, therefore, ought to continue its unyielding quest for innovative technologies that can adapt to today’s electric generators, all to create a New Energy Economy that is also environmentally friendly.

Politicos have long sought to split the economic and environmental worlds. But the differences are more subtle and the degree to which they overlap is a function of whether public policy favors the traditional or the modern fuels. Obama will now respond to his critics and articulate his vision, all as voters decipher the rhetoric and make their selection for the next U.S. president.


EnergyBiz Insider has been awarded the Gold for Original Web Commentary presented by the American Society of Business Press Editors. The column is also the Winner of the 2011 Online Column category awarded by Media Industry News, MIN. Ken Silverstein has been named one of the Top Economics Journalists by Wall Street Economists.

Twitter: @Ken_Silverstein

energybizinsider@energycentral.com