On Friday, I posted the first part of a two-part series on Obama’s recent executive order regarding regulation. This second part will introduce a new focus of my blog – energy. As president of Colorado State University, I was committed to improving the energy efficiency of our campus and have previously served on the advisory board of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. I hope you enjoy my thoughts on current issues in energy.
On the same day as President Obama issued the executive order – – Improving Regulation and Regulatory Overview he wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, explaining the rationale for his action and his responsibility to “strike the right balance” between the costs and benefits of regulation. He used as a major example of regulation gone awry the EPA’s continued treatment of the artificial sweetener, saccharin, as a dangerous chemical despite the FDA’s long-term consideration of saccharin as safe.
President Obama’s focus on the role of environmental regulation struck me as particularly apt and of considerable importance to many of us who have led large higher education institutions. Many university presidents, include myself, have sought to address the challenges associated with the environment, particularly, the role that energy production and utilization plays in producing greenhouse gases. When I was president of Colorado State University, I took several such actions – promoting a research focus in renewable energy, creating a School of Global Environmental Sustainability to support students’ education and job potential, and introducing a variety of initiatives to address the risings costs of the University’s energy consumption and the carbon footprint of the institution.
I took these actions for a variety of reasons, including the body of science associated with climate change, documented in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Climate Change 2007. But I also took these actions for two other reasons. Students deserve to have access to knowledge on energy and the environment based on sound science, not merely opinion. Finally, universities face growing, projected costs of energy, and a president has responsibility to assure the campus’s future energy supply at reasonable costs.
Those of us presidents who have addressed the challenges associated with energy on a college campus understand the complexities of the challenge, including the responsibility that we have – like the President – to “strike the right balance.” While research and the technology that comes from it are increasing the potential of sustainable energy to replace fossil fuels, we understand the limitations of new technologies at this time and the costs associated with them. Our on-going dependency on fossil fuels requires a pragmatic acceptance of the lack of a near-term, adequate substitute for them. Thus, we find ourselves, like President Obama, measuring costs against benefits. With the growing, global appetite for energy, we must insist on pragmatism, balancing the benefits of replacement of fossil fuels with the costs of their renewable substitutes. That is the reason why regulation must be imposed only with great care.
Essentially, energy is another issue where access and success are intertwined with one another. Customers, including universities, need access to energy, and universities, especially, have a responsibility for the long-term success of our energy industry: education of its employees, the development of new technology, including the capture and sequestration of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, and managing the costs of energy. Thus, President Obama’s determination to “strike the right balance” in regulation is welcome. I join him in supporting regulation that does so, and from time to time, I will comment on energy from the perspective of an educator and manager who has responsibility for assuring access to a reasonably priced supply of energy.