President Obama spoke briefly about energy in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, though he declared at the outset: “The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today, America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades.”
That statement rejected recently expressed concerns from 18 environmental groups that the energy strategy is “fundamentally at odds” with the Obama administration’s goal of slashing carbon pollution and responding to the threat of climate disruption. And it also refuted charges from fossil fuel backers that new environmental rules aimed at coal power and the administration’s emphasis on renewables undermine the nation’s energy security and have weakened its economy.
However, observers noted that the president’s speech mainly highlighted natural gas as the nation’s primary driver to energy independence. The president broached solar, too, proclaiming the U.S. is “becoming a global leader” in that renewables sector. No mention was made of coal, nuclear, or wind and other renewables.
Strong on Climate Change
On Tuesday night, the president also took a noteworthy stance on climate change: “[T]he debate is settled. Climate change is a fact,” he declared.
Though the U.S. had slashed its total carbon pollution “more than any other nation on Earth,” the administration was acting “with urgency,” he said, “because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods.”
That’s why the president directed the Environmental Protection Agency “to work with states, utilities, and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air,” he said.
“The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way,” he said. “And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”
A Job-Creating Energy Policy
Meanwhile, the nation’s “energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet,” said Obama, as he outlined a number of energy-related actions his administration would take this year. These include the promotion of “safe and responsible” production of natural gas, backing state efforts to develop “clean energy” and energy efficiency policies, cutting red tape to boost infrastructure investment, and “balancing conservation and development.”
“Natural gas is helping to reduce carbon pollution,” a White House–issued fact sheet associated with the State of the Union address proclaims. The administration will this year develop new environmental standards for oil and gas drilling on public lands, while financially backing research to “ensure safe and responsible natural gas production.” The Climate Action Plan also calls for “a multi-sector strategy to reduce methane emissions,” the White House says.
The White House’s stress on “balancing conservation and development” is also expressed as it claims, “The President believes that we must encourage energy development in the right ways and in the right places, but he also recognizes that there are some places that are too special to develop. That is why the President will use his authority to protect some of the places that Americans love most, even as we continue to develop energy resources elsewhere.” It adds that the Department of Interior is expected to make progress towards the president’s goal of permitting 20 GW of renewable energy projects on public lands by 2020.
Also prominent in both the State of the Union address and associated White House documents is language that values a partnership between the administration and states, cities, and tribes to further the push for “cleaner” power. Various federal agencies are already working with a number of states “to develop clean energy and energy efficiency policies,” the White House notes while it defines “clean energy” as technologies that use “wind, solar, hydropower, coal with carbon capture and storage, nuclear, and geothermal.”
To date, 10 U.S. states have market-based systems to reduce carbon emissions, more than 35 states have renewable energy targets, and more than 25 states have statewide programs to cut energy waste, it says.
The president underscored the need for that progress, calling for more funding for renewables. “Let’s continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do,” he said.
—Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)