Climate change, energy plans to get mention in SOTU address

Since taking office four years ago, President Barack Obama has used his annual State of the Union addresses to tout America’s natural gas bounty and challenge the U.S. to take the lead developing new energy technologies — without focusing closely on climate change.

Don’t expect that tonight.

Instead, Obama is expected to cast any energy talk through the lens of climate change, elaborating on his inaugural vow to “respond to the threat” posed by the earth’s rising temperature.

Environmentalists are counting on the president to detail specific plans for reining in greenhouse gas emissions, and energy industry leaders are hoping Obama gives a shout-out to the value of cleaner burning natural gas harvested within U.S. borders.

Bill Snape, the senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity, noted that Obama could put many carbon-cutting plans in action immediately — without fear of navigating them through the polarized House and Senate.

One possibility: Directing the Environmental Protection Agency to begin regulating greenhouse gas releases from existing power plants _ not just new facilities _ and from airplanes, which Snape said are the fastest-rowing transportation source of the emissions. The EPA already proposed emissions mandates for new power plants, but those standards would not apply to existing facilities.

“The president can regulate carbon pollution from power plants and airplanes, ban fracking on public lands and set a national cap on greenhouse gases,” Snape said. “Bold and immediate action is the only way to avoid the terrifyingly hot future predicted by climate scientists.”

David Foster, director of the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of labor unions and environmental organizations, said Obama has the chance to add more meat to the bones of his inaugural commitment to combat climate change.

“We were all energized by the president’s very strong statement about the importance of dealing with climate change in his inaugural speech,” Foster said. “And we now look forward to the State of the Union address to hear some of the specific actions he would take as leader of the administration, as well as some of the initiatives he might ask Congress to take up.”

Although Obama is expected to ask Congress to tackle the issue, he is unlikely to make a pitch for a broad, climate change bill imposing a cap on carbon emissions that no one expects to advance on Capitol Hill. Instead, environmentalists said they anticipate Obama will ask lawmakers to set a national renewable energy standard mandating that a set percentage of electricity be generated by wind, the sun and other easily replenished sources.

One topic that almost certainly will be off the table: Keystone XL Analysts and environmentalists predicted Obama won’t touch the politically explosive topic of whether his administration will approve a permit for the $7 billion pipeline, which would ferry Canadian oil sands crude from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries. Environmentalists opposed to the project are planning a big rally in Washington, D.C. next weekend, even as Obama’s State Department weighs whether the pipeline is in the national interest.

Energy industry leaders said Obama can use his address to highlight climate change and focus on reviving the U.S. economy at the same time, by touting a boon in domestic natural gas production. Natural gas produces fewer emissions than coal when burned to generate electricity, and its use is one reason America’s greenhouse gas emissions have been on a downward slide.

“You look at what has happened already in greenhouse gas reductions (and) that really is the story to tell,” said Marty Durbin, vice president of the American Petroleum Institute. “We’re out there ahead of every other country and region in the world in our ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

“There’s much we can do to further improvements in energy efficiency, to further incentivize the use of natural gas throughout the economy,” Durbin added. “These are all things that point us right where we need to go within the context of climate change and greenhouse gas reduction.”