At the end of last month Barrack Obama gave his third sate of union address, with green issues playing more of a prominent role in his speech than has often been the case under past administrations. But, what are the environmental implications of what the president had to say?
Whilst Obama did seem keen to stress his future commitment to the development of renewable energy sources, he also appeared to have one eye on appeasing his opposition, many of whom have rooted interests in fossil fuel. He stressed his support for the industries around conventional power, saying: “I’m directing my administration to open more than 75% of our potential offshore oil and gas resources.”
This was met with much dismay in ecological circles, indeed Green Peace said such action would present “a potential environmental nightmare”. So, what was the reasoning behind such a statement coming from a President who, when he came to power, promised to step up the fight against climate change?
As you might expect, a large part of the address dealt with domestic economic issues, and at times, perhaps worryingly, the President seemed to make the case for promoting domestic fossil fuels as an answer to some of the country’s financial woes, highlighting that a greater use of fuels sourced from within America’s own borders would reduce the trade deficit and provide a large source of job creation, thus boosting tax revenues.
He paid particular attention to the case for the expansion of the US’s natural gas industry saying; “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly one hundred years, and my Administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy. Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade.”
These points about the economic importance of fossil fuels may well have been concessions to critics who have been targeting Obama over the fact that Solyndra, the solar power company that benefitted heavily from a government loan programme, recently went bankrupt, whilst, at the same time the government rejected a permit for the potentially lucrative Keystone XL oil pipeline.
So should environmentalists be worried that Obama has been pressured into reducing his drive to incentivise renewable innovation in the face of Solyndra’s failure?/p>
The short answer appears to be ‘No’. Though he neglected to mention the company directly, the president seemed to reference Solyndra as, in a positive twist for the environmentally minded, he switched his focus to arousing support for a greater commitment to renewable energy, saying; “Some technologies don’t pan out; some companies fail, but I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy.”
In an interesting twist he went on to draw attention to the fact that the future economic ramifications of not attempting to develop new technologies could be just as great as if America were to become even more dependent on foreign oil, stating that: “I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here.”
Given the proud boast he’d made earlier about increasing the amount of fossil fuels produced in America to decrease the use of imported energy, this point seemed designed to play to the typical Republican fear of America’s dwindling power as an exporter, in what could be seen as a move to generate more cross party consensus for setting up green initiatives, using economic necessity as the basis.
In doing so he gave a strong indication that, whilst he used talk of expanding on the use of natural gases and domestic oil production to appease those on the right in congress who are most sceptical about the prospects for renewable energy, Obama’s real vision for the future lies in cleaner energy sources.
He said; “We have subsidized oil companies for a century. That’s long enough. It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that’s rarely been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that’s never been more promising. Pass clean energy tax credits and create these jobs.”
An environmental optimist could argue that, given the difficulties his administration has faced in getting reforms of various kinds through congress, it was inevitable that he’d have to pander to Republicans eager to hear about expansion in the energy industry, however, the way he went about doing so suggests Obama really is committed to a greener future. Though of course, this will do little to allay those who fear drastic action needs to be taken immediately.
Steve Waller is an environmental commentator. For more of his take on the world of green politics, visit his blog, Green Steve.
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