In State of the Union Obama Targets Energy, Climate

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Amid discussion of gun control, immigration reform and deficit reduction, President Barack Obama touched on his agenda for energy and climate in his State of the Union address Tuesday. Picking up where he left off in his second inaugural address, Obama took his focus on climate change one step further, calling on Congress to enact legislation to cut carbon pollution and increase clean energy production. He made it clear he intends to act with or without lawmakers.

“But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will,” Obama said. “I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take now and in the future to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

Topping the list of actions for Congress: a market-based solution similar to cap-and trade legislation John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on a few years ago. A cap-and-trade system—like the one established in California—would create a cap, or limit, on industrial greenhouse gas emissions that would decrease over time. At the federal level, it died in the Senate in 2010. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer rolled out a bill that would levy a fee on large fossil fuel facilities—building off the momentum of the State of the Union (subscription required). Wednesday the Environment and Public Works Committee held a briefing to discuss the latest findings in climate science research.

During the speech, Obama offered no details on steps he would take if Congress fails to act. While there was no mention of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations of power plants, The National Journal reports he is on track to use his executive authority to introduce rules for controlling carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act this year. This would go beyond mandates currently proposed for new facilities.

Energy Trust Would Drive New Research to Reduce Oil Dependence

In addition to taking executive action to curb climate change, Obama proposed using the revenues from federal oil and gas production to fund an Energy Security Trust. This trust would “drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good.” The $2 billion investment would support research into a range of technologies, including homegrown biofuels and electric vehicles. It would not require expanding drilling. The Hill notes that creating such a trust would require an Act of Congress, and some Republican lawmakers are already calling the plan a “nonstarter.”

Obama also wants to work with Congress to encourage cleaner-burning natural gas. “The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence,” he said. “We need to encourage that. And that’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. That’s got to be part of an all-of-the-above plan. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and our water.” Merrill Matthews at Forbes is skeptical of Obama’s promises to expedite the permitting process for oil and gas drilling, accusing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar of withdrawing public lands that had already undergone a lengthy environmental review and been approved for oil and gas leasing.

Is the Speech a Roadmap for 2013?

The answers are mixed. Some liked what they heard. Success of the address, USA Today reports, depends on the success of the policies. The President has delivered variable results on proposals he’s put forth in four previous State of the Union addresses, reports Politico. With Republicans in control of the House, CBS News’s Brian Montopoli says a resurrection of a cap-and-trade bill like the one Obama proposed in 2009 is doubtful.

Meanwhile, a new national poll by Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions suggests many Americans haven’t formed an opinion about a cap-and-trade approach; with support low, 36 percent are neither for nor against. It also found only 29 percent of Americans strongly or somewhat support a carbon tax and 64 percent strongly or somewhat favor regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, factories and cars. However, the percentage of Americans who think the climate is changing, and that the change is a result of human activity, have reached their highest levels since 2007.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

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