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Former Oklahoma environmental secretary talks about Obama, former classmate



Miles Tolbert said he knew Barack Obama at Harvard Law School back when he attended from 1988 to 1991.

"¦ Along with about 500 other people. Yes, Tolbert said, the guy is smart.


"I agree that he is pivotal "¦ there is no question that he's very smart," he said. "While I'm pleased to say that I know the man who will be president of the United States, I cannot say I used to have beers a lot with the man who is going to be president of the United States."

But Tolbert, now an attorney for the law firm of Crowe & Dunlevy, isn't crying in his beer over missed opportunity. Instead, the former state secretary of the environment is fascinated at how his fellow Harvard grad is rewriting the book on environment policy.

Obama news flash: Environment is energy.

"That is really the moment we're in. The key environmental questions are energy questions," Tolbert said. "The most striking thing about his environmental policy is actually that it's an energy policy."

Instead of separating the two, he said, the president-elect re-envisioned the environment and energy equation when he accepted the nomination. In a victory speech after the North Carolina primary, Obama said the country faces "a defining moment in history " a moment when we're facing two wars, an economy in turmoil, a planet in peril "¦"

Speaking of Obama's plans, Tolbert said, "What Obama will try to do, it appears, is to address all three at one stroke with a new energy policy. If you make investments in green energy, you help the economy. If you wean us off foreign sources of energy, you improve our security. If you reduce the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere, you are saving the planet. That's how the three work together and how he clearly sees them."

But what does this worldview mean for Oklahoma? Tolbert said the news is good, and plays to Oklahoma's strengths in both its current energy production and its plans for the future.

"He is proposing, for example, for $150 billion to be invested in the next 10 years for research and development and to stimulate renewable sources of energy, including biofuels," Tolbert said. "We feel really good here in Oklahoma with the fact that over the next couple of years, we will have put $40 million in biofuel research. So, hearing a number like $15 billion a year for 10 years just dwarfs that. That is something like a moon shot."

He said Obama supports a goal for the country to have 25 percent of its energy needs come from renewable energy by 2025 " a plan called 25x'25, which Gov. Brad Henry recently signed on to.

Tolbert explained the goal would require Oklahoma to create a "renewable portfolio standard" like Texas has, stating that Oklahoma's energy needs be met through wind energy " a move the state and electricity consumers are already embracing. He said Oklahoma could become competitive like Texas in that arena.

"That's one of the reasons that Texas is the nation's largest wind producer," Tolbert said. "That kind of requirement would, over time, tremendously stimulate alternative energy in this country and would greatly benefit the industries that generate that energy."

Tolbert said Oklahoma's natural gas industry "would generally do well" in the Obama administration.

"He did choose Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff. Emanuel has been a big proponent of CNG in automobiles. I think you have to see this as good," he said. "He has made clear that he is going to pursue some sort of comprehensive CO2 regulation. Gas is twice as efficient as coal, its main competitor, so we could expect gas would be relatively better off as a result of that."

That's a difference in perspective for Obama, Tolbert said. Originally, Obama was leaning toward coal conversion technology, having come from Illinois, a coal producer. But that's changed now, he said.

"Early on, he made favorable comments about converting coal directly to liquid fuels, that he's now kind of backed away from. It (would be) bad from a carbon dioxide perspective," Tolbert said. "I think he has started seeing it in the national perspective and not just his local, his Illinois perspective." "Ben Fenwick

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