Op Ed

Grading Obama’s Climate State Of The Union, Football-Style


Barack Obama gave a fairly typical State of the Union (SOTU) message last night for a President in the 5th year of his administration:  A few specific policy initiatives paired with a pledge to go over the heads of a hopelessly stalled Congress.  While the focus of his talk was on other issues (jobs, healthcare, income inequality and immigration), President Obama did speak about energy and climate change.  

Given the many sports analogies in the President’s speech (i.e. “we are stronger when America fields a full team”, speaking of unemployment) and, given this is the GreenSportsBlog, we will grade the energy/climate change portion of the SOTU as if we were analyzing a football game.  



The President went on offense on climate change early in the SOTU. His strongest statement on climate was also his most obvious, one he made at last year’s 2nd Inaugural Address and in the 2013 SOTU:  “Climate Change is a fact”.  But he missed a big opportunity to call out climate change deniers (most of the GOP Congressional delegation, basically).

These climate flat-earthers have stalled any legislative action on climate change since the President took office and Obama should’ve taken them on.  Instead, he went with tried-and-true calls from the climate change playbook: Investments in clean “fuels of the future” and an end to tax breaks for fossil fuels. Safe, important policy prescriptions to be sure but end-the-tax-breaks have  no shot of getting passed in the GOP-led House.  And it’s not big enough to put the brakes on carbon emissions so that we avoid the climate change train wreck that is awaiting us.  If Obama wanted to “go long”, he would’ve pushed for aggressive national renewable energy goals (i.e. 30% of electricity from wind/solar/wave by 2030) and a price on carbon (i.e. carbon tax).



President Obama C-SPAN
President Barack Obama delivering his State of the Union last night in front of a joint session of Congress.  Obama said “Climate Change is real” but defended is “All of the Above” energy development strategy, which means domestic natural gas and oil will likely continue to dominate our energy mix and climate change will continue apace. (Photo Credit: C-SPAN)



The President was smart to defend much of his administration’s environmental record–especially the improved gas mileage standards for cars he enacted by executive order in his first term (and a similar higher standard for trucks, introduced last night) and the new emissions regulations (still to be appealed) on coal plants that will make it much harder for new plants to get commissioned.

But Obama fumbled big-time when he defended his “All Of The Above” energy development strategy.

The strategy is intellectually dishonest as it is simply impossible to lower Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and grow fossil fuel energy production.  I know the President doesn’t want to be hammered by the Drill Baby Drill crowd in the GOP and he doesn’t want to give them an issue (“Job killing regulations!!) that will help the Republicans possibly win the Senate this November.

But, as Obama himself said last night, “The shift to a cleaner energy economy…will require tough choices along the way.”  He should have followed that up with “Well, we’re going make Tough Choice #1 right here, right now.  We’re going to start shifting away from our ‘All Of The Above’ approach that worked in terms of getting us off of foreign oil and gas by ramping up production here, to “Fast Tracking Renewables”, that will get us off of oil and gas. Period.  And, while ‘All of the Above’ generated some jobs, ‘Fast Tracking Renewables’ will generate many more jobs.”  If he had said something like that, his Defense grade would be an A, but he didn’t.




What would’ve been Special last night, climate change-wise?

If the President had said “To start a meaningful switch to renewables, away from fossil fuels means we’ll have to leave fossil fuel assets in the ground.  We are taking the first step in that process tonight.  I have instructed Secretary of State Kerry to let his counterpart in Canada know that the United States of America has decided not to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline”.  THAT would’ve been special, the equivalent of a 100 yard kickoff return touchdown.

No such luck.  C’est la vie!

GRADE:  Incomplete



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  1. Obama fails short on the quarterback ground game. The clean air act says that the president is obliged to protect the public health…not that he should, but that it his obligation. he gets high marks on regulating future gas guzzling coal plants, but has done little to manage existing coal plants. Last year’s announcement of executive regulations to control future coal plants passed legal scrutiny so far; unless he takes further action against current coal plants he faces a failing mark. Mr. President, now is not the time to sit in the pocket and throw the “Hail Mary.” Now is the time to get those spikes into the ground and run the ball yourself. You may get bruised, but the prize is worth the pain.

  2. John, I could not have said it better myself! The President needs to, in the words of Rex Ryan, Ground & Pound on current coal plants and their emissions. I’m glad you brought that up!

  3. I’m with you on this! It’s funny but the members of the “drill baby drill” contingency in congress are NEVER going to compromise, or even negotiate, with the president. On some important level, I wish he’d just seek out the middle of the road opposition and try to connect with them. Of course they are deathly afraid of the far right. On green policies — and many other important issues — a small group of extremists have control that is out of proportion to their numbers. It’s like a team that has a small group of players on their side, for whom the rules are slightly different. Maybe a shorter distance to the goal?

  4. Candy, I think the bigger problem with the GOP’s Congressional delegation is that they are, with perhaps a small number of exceptions (maybe 1-2), climate change deniers. So they aren’t going to compromise with the President on this issue because THEY DON’T BELIEVE IT EXISTS. How do you deal with that??? I think that’s worse for the President (and the country) than any of the rest of the litany of obstructions they’ve cooked up…Meaning that I think the GOP is aware there’s a problem with healthcare, immigration, etc. They might not want to deal with it, but they’re aware the problem exists. In this case they literally deny the problem exists. Hard to deal with that.

  5. Seems like with Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy and the political cover he received from his State Department endorsing the controversial Keystone pipeline, Obama is leaning right. Hopefully, Obama’s conciliatory actions will depoliticize climate change and we can have some coordinated action in Washington to increase the use of natural gas and other forms of cleaner energy. Keep the competition in the Super Bowl, but get the cooperation in Washington!!!

  6. John, IMHO Obama is leaning WRONG on this one–for substantive and political reasons. What good can come, environmentally, from exploiting the dirty tar sands oil from Alberta, especially since the oil is bound for export, not for use here? You’ve got the dirtiest oil in terms of carbon intensity when burned (17% dirtier than heavy crude, per the State Dep’t and that analysis is considered conservative) and then you have an extremely dirty process to extract and separate it from the tar sands. Then that oil’s going to be transported from Gulf of Mexico refineries to China and elsewhere in the Far East, burned there, and then the emissions blow West to East, back to us. It’s not for domestic consumption So, what good comes from approving Keystone XL? Jobs? Minuscule, per most analyses (aside from API).
    I know the State Department report says the oil would be exploited anyway but, if that’s the case, where/how would it be exploited?
    As for the politics, why should Obama concede on Keystone XL to a GOP which stand for Grand Old (Climate Denier) Party? Is there one elected Republican elected member of Congress who has said climate change is real, is human caused, and we need to do something about it? If so please let me know who he/she is. Would approving Keystone XL mean that the GOP would all of a sudden see the scientific light? I think not. All of the Above didn’t change anyone’s minds. The GOP is fighting his rules on coal plants. He’d be negotiating against himself. What’s he GETTING from the GOP for conceding on this?
    It seems to me if climate change (and how we’re gonna power our economy) is to be depoliticized*, I would think that the thing that would do the trick would be for the deniers to, you know, acknowledge such troublesome things as facts and scientific data.
    * Something that big will never be depoliticized.

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