Alternative Energy: Intentions of Presidents v.s. True Political Outcomes

Environmental politics was a topic that, before last year, I thought was pretty straightforward.  There were two prominent stereotypes that came to mind: “tree-hugging” liberals and “oil-mongering” conservatives.  Not until last year when I took a course on Environmental Politics did I realize how far these stereotypes were from the truth.  When one examines the policies put forth by past Democratic and Republican Presidents, one realizes both parties have promoted policies of conservation and destruction, regulation and deregulation, and promotion of alternative energy or traditional energy solutions.  While many issues can be thought of in a partisan way, environmental politics just does not fit neatly into that mold.  In fact, the inability to really determine who I favored when it came to environmental issues disturbed me.  It became more and more clear to me during that class that there was a huge disconnect between what our Presidents promise us they will do, and what actually happens.

I want to use this research paper as an opportunity to explore this idea further.  So the question I want to explore is: In what ways do the intentions of President’s to create environmental policy regarding alternative energy compare to what they have accomplished? Essentially, what is truly feasible in terms of creation of policy regarding alternative energy?

I plan to examine the speeches given by several different Presidents to see how frequently alternative energy is mentioned.  From there, I will compare that to the amount of money spent on the particular issue.  For example, if President X says (and thereby advocates for) Solar Power 100 times over the course of 1 year in his speeches, how much money has he spent on that issue? How much in comparison to other issues?   I will be making many comparisons of this type, this is just one example.

I want to see if there is a trend, and if there is some way that we, as Presidential Scholars, can set our expectations in terms of policy creation and success based on this examination. My hypothesis is that what Presidents say will not reflect in full what they do, but I think what makes my question interesting is that while my results will probably fluctuate a lot depending on what administration I look at, there might just be an observable trend in the amount of times a President mentions an alternative energy issue and what is done about it.

I feel that there is so much at stake when it comes to our environment.  But I also feel it is important for us to really understand what the President is actually capable of accomplishing when it comes to these environmental issues.  Without this understanding, environmental scientists and Presidential Administrations will continuously be at a standstill of mutual confusion and frustration.

-ECS, Barnard College

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2 Responses to Alternative Energy: Intentions of Presidents v.s. True Political Outcomes

  1. mattgenova1 says:

    I’m also planning on writing a paper on alternative energy policy, though I’m doing a more specific historical analysis rather than analyzing a broader historical trend, which is what it sounds like you’re going to do. I think the idea of looking at Presidential rhetoric is awesome, and I can’t wait to hear what you’ve found by November. Hopefully we can take some time then to bounce ideas off of each other as well!

    • ecs2153 says:

      Definitely! I’m actually surprised to see how many people are discussing alternative energy in their papers, but I’m also really happy that people are dealing with this issue right now since I don’t think it gets the right kind of attention that it needs in the real world. If I come across a source that I think will help you I’ll send it your way!

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