Obama calls for more clean energy in final SOTU speech

This article was updated Jan. 13.

In remarks emphasizing the importance of overcoming differences and working together to continue national progress, US President Barack Obama called for a stronger national effort to develop cleaner energy and move away from fossil fuels in his final State of the Union address.

“Even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record—until 2015 turned out even hotter—why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?” he asked during his Jan. 12 speech before both Houses of Congress, members of his Cabinet and the US Supreme Court, and a global audience watching online.

Obama said that 7 years after his administration made the biggest clean energy investment in history, “in fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power,” adding, “On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal—in jobs that pay better than average.”

He said, “We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy—something environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support. Meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly 60%, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth. [Gasoline] under $2/gal ain’t bad, either.”

The president said that it’s also time to accelerate a transition from what he called “dirty energy.” He said, “That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. That way, we put money back into those communities and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.”

‘Plenty of entrenched interests’

Obama acknowledged that this change would not be accomplished overnight. “There are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo,” he said. “But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, and the planet we’ll preserve—that’s the kind of future our kids and grandkids deserve.”

The president’s call for a stronger national commitment to clean energy and transition from fossil fuels came hours after officials of three national oil and gas associations urged him to recognize the substantial contribution the industry has made to the dramatically improved domestic energy supply outlook during his presidency (OGJ Online, Jan. 12, 2016).

Other oil and gas leaders were critical following Obama’s address. “The president still fails to accept one basic fact about climate change: The United States has dramatically reduced greenhouse gas emissions, more than other developed countries, primarily because of increased use of natural gas. It’s not because of wind or solar,” said Tim Wigley, president of the Western Energy Alliance in Denver.

He expressed concern that Obama’s energy legacy could be overreaching regulations designed to constrict oil and gas production in favor of unreliable alternatives.

“The president doesn’t plan to include a prescribed list of new policy goals to Congress. That’s by design,” Wigley said. “He has no intention of working with elected leaders to implement his goals for energy and the environment. He’ll close out his term by continuing to issue new rules through the federal agencies that kill jobs and economic growth in order to promote his climate change agenda, which he couldn’t even pass when Democrats controlled both the House and Senate.”

Mark Sutton, president of the Gas Processors Association in Tulsa, said, “My hope tonight was that President Obama would continue to acknowledge the important and crucial role that natural gas plays in our nation’s future as he has done in previous [SOTU] addresses,” said. “Unfortunately, his message has been diluted by an endless number of regulations from agencies that will impact the midstream sector.”

Squandered opportunities

In Washington, American Energy Alliance Pres. Thomas Pyle said that during Obama’s presidency, commonsense energy opportunities such as the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline have been shot down, regulations to close low-cost power plants have been imposed, and billions of dollars have been wasted on unproven sources such as wind and solar.

“The lone bright spot has been the boom in oil and gas production,” Pyle stated. “And while President Obama again took credit for low gasoline prices, this has so clearly and obviously happened in spite of his policies, as he has stifled energy production on federal lands and waters.”

American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers Pres. Chet Thompson saw an inconsistency in Obama’s address. “On one hand, he tried to reassure the American public about economic progress. On the other, he promoted anti-fossil fuel policies that attack the most efficient and affordable energy sources that will continue to be our future for generations,” he said.

“The policies the president advocates will require Americans struggling from paycheck-to-paycheck to unnecessarily spend more of their hard earned dollars on energy, often at the expense of other necessities,” Thompson said.

National Association of Manufacturers Pres. Jay Timmons said the nation will need leaders who are willing to work together to break down the barriers that stand in the way of manufacturers’ increased success. “That includes relieving manufacturers from a tax burden that makes it hard to compete in the global economy and opening new markets abroad,” he said.

In Houston, Consumer Energy Alliance Pres. David Holt said Obama highlighted how the US economy and employment have recovered during his presidency, and how the nation now leads the world in emissions reductions. “But the president failed to emphasize how the US energy revolution helped spearhead these legacy-makers, and how it’s led to significantly lower consumer costs, whether it’s through lower [gasoline] prices or decreased utility costs,” he said.

More work awaits, Holt stated. “Our energy infrastructure is struggling, new federal proposals hostile to energy development threaten to derail our progress, and special interests are working overtime to halt responsible resource development, regardless of the millions of jobs at stake,” he warned.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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