State of the Union: Is Obama's 'all-of-the-above' energy working?

President Obama used Tuesday's State of the Union address to defend his 'all-of-the-above' energy policy, rankling some who would rather the president pick their favorite fuel. Promoting all energy sources, Obama said in the State of the Union speech, is 'creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet.'   

Susan Walsh/AP
President Barack Obama is seen through a television camera viewfinder as gives his the State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington. The shift to a cleaner energy economy 'won't happen overnight,' Obama said.

In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Obama pointed to his administration's 'all-of-the-above' energy policy as key to reducing US reliance on foreign oil while simultaneously cutting the country's carbon emissions.

"Climate change is a fact," Obama said, addressing the lawmakers he has largely sidestepped in pursuing his Climate Action Plan. "And when our children’s children look us in the eye, and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say, 'Yes, we did.'"

The reiteration of Obama's "all-of-the-above" energy policy rankled some across the energy-environment spectrum who see the policy as a sort of cop-out – promoting energy sources both old and new as a way of sidestepping the politically thorny issue of prioritizing one over the other.

Clean-energy advocates have increasingly called on the president to ditch the agnostic approach and embrace what they say is a "best-of-the-above" energy policy. Fossil-fuel backers say "all-of-the-above" obscures a behind-the-scenes "war on coal" and resistance to new oil and gas drilling. 

Mr. Obama rebuffed those calls in his State of the Union address, making his case for why the policy "is working." 

The president applied to energy the characteristic long view he has taken on issues ranging from immigration to health care to gay marriage. The shift to a cleaner energy economy "won't happen overnight," he said, but demands urgency as "a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods."

He highlighted American energy as one of the biggest factors fueling the country's economic recovery – a tone of patient optimism that pervaded the entire State of the Union address. Obama ticked off bright spots: Oil production is booming, natural gas is a "bridge fuel" to renewables, cars are more efficient, US emissions are falling (but bounced back in 2013), and solar panels are proliferating across the nation's rooftops. The policy of promoting all domestic energy sources is "creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet." 

In a fact sheet accompanying the address, The White House floated some new proposals for energy aimed at balancing old fuels and new ones, economic growth and environmental conservation.

The administration called for developing "Sustainable Shale Gas Growth Zones" to ease the local environmental impacts and boom-and-bust cycles of America's shale energy growth. It proposed eliminating tariffs on environmental goods as a way to boost clean-energy technology transfers between the US and countries fueling growth with carbon-heavy fuels. The Department of the Interior will open up some new public lands, according to the White House, in order to achieve its goal of permitting 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy projects on public lands by 2020. 

Environmental groups mostly embraced Obama's call for action on climate change, but some were left wanting more concrete benchmarks and aggressive deadlines for building up renewable capacity. Others challenged the president's touting of natural gas as a 'bridge fuel,' a phrase borrowed from his Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz (in absentia Tuesday as the federal government's "designated survivor").

While a national shift from coal to natural gas has significantly reduced carbon emissions, some environmental groups say those gains are canceled out by an increase in methane emissions and the environmental impacts of oil and gas extraction. 

"We can’t drill or frack our way out of this problem," Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club said in a statement. "There is far more potential for good job creation in clean energy like solar and wind, and common sense solutions like energy efficiency."

The oil and gas industry praised Tuesday's speech for emphasizing the role of hydrocarbons in America's energy future. But industry backers criticized the president for repeating a call to end some tax cuts for fossil fuel industries in favor of those for future energy sources. 

“Unfortunately, the president called for increased taxes on the oil and natural gas industry he needs to close the income gap and create jobs," Jack Gerard, president of the industry group American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement. "Punishing energy companies by raising taxes is not sound energy policy and could lead to less energy, less government revenue, and fewer jobs."

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.