Decoding what Obama said about energy and climate

The president makes the case for action on climate change, though offers few concrete plans

During his State of the Union address, Obama made the case for action on climate change but proposed few concrete plans. The president said his administration would speed up approvals of domestic oil and gas permits to take advantage of America’s domestic energy boom.

He called for a “market-based solution” to climate change and referred to a past attempt at cap-and-trade legislation. But such legislation is likely a non-starter in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives — so Obama also said he willing to take unilateral executive actions “to reduce pollution.”

He didn’t give specifics about what unilateral steps his administration could take without legislation passed by Congress, but environmentalists have been asking the administration to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants — especially those that burn coal — currently the largest source of carbon emissions in the U.S.

Industry says that the costs of upgrading existing plants will be too high — but there is speculation a carbon rule or standard could be the trade-off for an eventual decision to approve the Keystone XL pipeline (which was not mentioned at all in his speech).

Here is what Obama said about energy in his speech:

“After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future.  We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years.  We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar – with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it.  We produce more natural gas than ever before – and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it.  And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.

“But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.  Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend.  But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15.  Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense.  We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence.  Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.

“The good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth.  I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago.  But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.  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.

“Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it.  We’ve begun to change that.  Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America.  So let’s generate even more.  Solar energy gets cheaper by the year – so let’s drive costs down even further.  As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

“In the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence.  That’s why my Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.  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 water.

 ”Indeed, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together.  So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good.  If a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we.  Let’s take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we’ve put up with for far too long.  I’m also issuing a new goal for America: let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years.  The states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make it happen.”




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