|Obama delivering his State of the Union speech. Photo credit: abcnews.
By Anders Lorenzen
We were 16 minutes into President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech (SOTU) before his first significant mention of energy and environment arrived. He said the US’s energy strategy is working towards outlining the All of the Above energy strategy saying: “America are closer to energy independence that we have been in decades”.
Gas as a bridging fuel
In a sentiment that is unlikely to please environmentalists, he continued: “One of the reasons why is natural gas, if extracted safely it’s our bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change’’. The US have had a surge in natural gas production due to extracting shale gas via the controversial method of fracking. This has led to a nationwide protest movement against fracking, calling for a ban.
Some parts of industry and Republicans have criticized Obama for leading a war on coal, and without directly mentioning it, The President signalled the switch from coal to natural gas by saying: “Business plans to invest nearly $100 billion into factories using natural gas’’.
After heralding the boom of oil and natural gas, Obama went onto renewables, saying that the US had become a global leader of solar power too; he stated: “Every four minutes an American home or business goes solar, every panel pounded by a worker whose job cannot be outsourced’’.
End fossil fuel subsidies
And in probably the most significant part of the speech, and one that would undoubtedly have won praise amongst environmentalists, The President went to war on fossil fuel subsidies stating: “Let’s continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion to the fossil fuel industry every year who don’t need it, so we can invest more in the fuel of the future that do’’. That statement received a standing ovation and the camera focused on Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who has campaigned hard on the issue.
Moving onto fuel efficiency, Obama said that he has worked with business to set higher fuel efficiency standards for automobiles and in coming months he would move on setting new standards for trucks.
Dealing with climate change
On the devil itself: climate change, he said: “Over the past eight years The United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any nation on earth. But we have to act with more urgency, because the changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought and coastal cities dealing with floods’’. In outlining what he’s doing to deal with climate change,The President continued: “That’s why I have directed my administration to work with states, utilities and others to set new standards on the amount of new carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to pump into the air. The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight and it will require some tough choices along the way’’.
No time for climate denial
In regard to what could be directed to climate sceptics within congress, Obama said: “The debate is settled, climate change is a fact and when our childrens children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer and more stable world with new sources of energy I want us to be able to say, yes we did’’. Followed by another standing ovation, with the camera this time focused on Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who time after time has taken the climate debate up in The Senate and has been very critical of Republicans who deny man made climate change.
A mixed bag for environmentalists
There was a bit of everything in this speech, proving a mixed bag for environmentalists. They are likely to be most critical of his All of the Above strategy as the US are now extracting more fossil fuels than under any other administration. Especially his continued endorsement of shale gas extraction will be met with fierce criticism. Environmentalists will be celebrating Obama’s emphasis to ban fossil fuel subsidies and instead, direct it towards clean energy, but very few details have so far been provided by the Obama Administration of how this will be achieved. They would also be pleased, as outlined in his climate speech last year, that he would use his executive powers to set a limit on the amount of CO2 the US’s power plants can emit.
Sub edited by Charlotte Paton.
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