President Obama’s State of the Union Didn’t Please Environmental, Trade Groups

In Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Obama dedicated several minutes to energy issues. And judging from the statements from non-profits and trade groups sent out soon after, he managed to make many diverse groups unhappy.

In the speech, Obama touted America’s natural gas production, calling it “the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.” He also paid lip service to solar—and to continued tax incentives for the industry—and to more fuel efficient vehicles.

But at least two environmental groups were disappointed by the president’s kind words for natural gas.

“Make no mistake—natural gas is a bridge to nowhere,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement. “If we are truly serious about fighting the climate crisis, we must look beyond an ‘all of the above’ energy policy and replace dirty fuels with clean energy. We can’t effectively act on climate and expand drilling and fracking for oil and gas at the same time.”

Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen had similar sentiments, saying he was disappointed Obama continued to support an “all-of-the-above energy policy that includes both fossil fuels and renewables.

“While the president touted natural gas, we shouldn’t be committing ourselves to a future fueled by gas,” Van Noppen said in a statement. “The president is right that we must protect air and water and stop the methane pollution coming from the gas sector now. But we should not be locking ourselves into fossil fuel dependence that doesn’t pass the president’s own climate test.”

Earthjustice and Sierra Club were more complimentary of the portions of the address that focused on climate change. This speech is the first State of the Union since Obama unveiled his climate action plan last summer, and he reiterated his commitment to reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Over the past eight years the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth. But we have to act with more urgency because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought and coastal cities dealing with floods. That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air. The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require some tough choices along the way. But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. 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 mention of climate change and upcoming greenhouse gas regulations—which would put limits on the carbon dioxide emitted from power plants—wasn’t welcomed by Mike Duncan, the CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. He called it a “puzzling paradox” that Obama wants to address income inequality even as he’s pursuing tougher regulations.

“Regulations spearheaded by [Obama's] own Environmental Protection Agency aimed at coal-fueled electricity will weaken our economy and our energy security,” Duncan said. “We hope that the president hears the concerns of the millions of Americans who rely on affordable, reliable coal for their electricity and uses commonsense, achievable standards to make our energy cleaner.”

The group that seemed to be happiest with Obama’s speech was the natural gas industry. America’s Natural Gas Alliance president Marty Durbin thanked Obama for his support of the industry, even though he noted disagreements with how it should be taxed.

“We welcome President Obama’s continued support for the opportunities that natural gas is bringing our nation. It is clear from tonight’s speech that the president recognizes the role natural gas is playing in meeting our nation’s economic and environmental needs,” Durbin said.

In his speech, Obama didn’t lay out any new energy or climate goals. But there was an emphasis on taking action through executive order if Congress won’t act—which is what Obama is doing through some of the upcoming environmental regulations.

Erica Peterson

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL.

@ericampeterson

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