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 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!