President Obama made the case Tuesday night for producing more of the United States’ energy supplies domestically in pursuing an “all-of-the-above” approach to further bolster the economy and national security.
Speaking to a joint session of Congress in his third State of the Union address, Obama called for policies that harness a mixture of fossil-fuel and alternative energy resources. He said his administration would open most of the nation’s offshore oil-and-gas resources for development, continue supporting shale-gas production and put more renewable-energy projects on federal lands.
But he also made requests of Congress. He repeated his unsuccessful call last year for a mandate on clean power sources and asked Congress to pass tax incentives for cleaner energy sources while rolling back subsidies for fossil fuels.
“This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy, a strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper and full of new jobs,” Obama said in his speech, in which energy formed one component of his “blueprint for an economy built to last.”
He has faced immense pressure from Republicans, energy industry groups and others to make it easier to drill for oil and gas offshore as well as mine for coal. Meanwhile environmental and clean-energy advocates, who form a component of his base, have long sought to reduce U.S. reliance on fossil fuels and shift toward zero-emission sources like solar and wind.
More oil and gas
Obama defended his administration’s record on fossil fuels, saying U.S. oil production reached its highest level in eight years and net oil imports, at 46 percent in 2011, had dipped to their lowest level in 16 years.
In the face of criticism, he tossed bones to fossil-fuel and alternative-energy supporters.
The president said he would direct his administration to open 75 percent of the nation’s potential offshore fossil-fuel resources. Saying that tapping the nation’s oil reserves “isn’t enough,” he added he would “take every possible action to safely develop” domestic natural gas.
But he said his administration would move forward on new rules requiring disclosure of chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process on public lands. “America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk,” Obama said.
The American Petroleum Institute, the leading oil-and-gas lobbying group, said ahead of the speech that Obama was making a “course correction.”
But after Obama called for eliminating certain oil-and-gas subsidies, the group walked back its praise.
“Advocating greater energy production but penalizing those who provide that energy is not a sound energy policy, but a contradiction,” API President Jack Gerard said in a statement. (The group also alleged today that the rise in oil production occurred on state and private lands and that the administration was still inhibiting drilling on federal lands.)
Boosting alternative energy
With Republicans holding a strong majority in the House, Obama acknowledged he probably can’t win approval of certain policies he campaigned on in 2008, such as sweeping climate-change legislation.
But he said the nation nonetheless should help support the development of alternative energy sources.
“I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here,” Obama said.
In addition to seeking the “clean-energy standard,” he called on Congress to pass “clean-energy tax credits” and other incentives to get businesses to make their facilities more energy-efficient. He didn’t specify which energy credits he was referring to; some are set to expire in the coming two years.
Obama also said he would approve enough renewable-energy projects on federal lands to power 3 million homes.
He didn’t mention Fremont, Calif.-based Solyndra LLC, the bankrupt solar-panel maker that received a loan guarantee from the Energy Department. Congressional Republicans have investigated the loan guarantee and questioned whether taxpayer money is being wasted in renewable energy programs.
But Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., ranking member on the Natural Resources Committee, praised Obama and blasted Republicans, who he said “are suffering from Solyndra syndrome, a malady which leads them to throw the entire solar, wind and other renewables industries into quarantine because of a single company’s failure.”
Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, offered muted praise for Obama.
“Home-grown sources of energy certainly are preferable to imports, especially from unstable regions of the world,” she said in a statement. “But as the president noted, feeding our addiction to fossil fuels is not the long-term solution; we need to embrace renewable sources of energy with even greater fervor as well as energy efficiency.”
Environmental groups were elated when the administration proposed greenhouse-gas and fuel-efficiency standards doubling passenger-vehicle mileage by 2025 and finalized toxic-emission standards for coal- and oil-fired power plants.
Facing pressure from Republicans over what some have called “job-killing” regulations, Obama said his administration has rolled back unneeded or outdated rules to help business. But he defended other regulations his administration has handed down, including the power-plant regulation (known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards) and tougher safety standards for offshore drilling.
“I will not back down from making sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf two years ago,” Obama said. “I will not back down from protecting our kids from mercury pollution, or making sure that our food is safe and our water is clean.”
No Keystone XL mention
Missing from Obama’s speech was any mention of the Keystone XL pipeline, which the State Department denied a permit for over concerns about a Congressionally imposed Feb. 21 decision deadline. Republicans have vowed to push legislation to approve the pipeline.
Obama’s failure to mention Keystone XL or Solyndra “speaks volumes about contrasting policy visions,” House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said in a statement.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, invited Keystone XL supporters to attend the speech, among them Jay Churchill, who manages a Roxana, Ill., refinery belonging to Houston-based ConocoPhillips.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, sought to make Keystone XL an issue on their website midway through the speech, highlighting examples of key Democrats and labor unions that supported approving the 1,700-mile pipeline carrying oil from Alberta’s tar sands region to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas.