President Obama paid much less attention to energy and climate in last night’s fifth State of the Union address than he did in the previous four, highlighting only two specific initiatives: natural-gas fueling stations and fuel-efficiency standards for trucks.
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The president has spoken of energy and climate as a single issue ever since candidate Obama formulated the new-energy economy as the answer to climate change. But as cheap natural gas flooded the country during his presidency—thanks to hydraulic fracturing and lateral drilling—Obama had to revise the “new-energy economy” to include some very old fossil fuels:
“The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working,” he said last night, “and today, America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades.”
Obama bragged that “the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth,” but had to give some of the credit to fracking gas:
“One of the reasons why is natural gas – if extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.”
Obama devoted about four minutes of the 65-minutes speech to energy and climate. He mentioned energy eight times last night, compared to 18 mentions last year and 23 in 2012.
While touting the benefits of natural gas, Obama urged Congress to put people to work building natural-gas fueling stations. He didn’t mention wind energy as he has in the past, but he did tout America’s solar boom:
“It’s not just oil and natural gas production that’s booming; we’re becoming a global leader in solar, too. Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar; every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced.”
On climate change, Obama used his most assertive language yet in a State of the Union speech:
“The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require 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.”
In 2013 he urged his audience “to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it’s too late.”
In 201o, he seemed much more willing to entertain doubt: “I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But here’s the thing — even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy-efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future -– because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.”
Last night, Obama attributed California’s record drought to carbon pollution, but he passed on the opportunity to blame carbon for giant waves in the Pacific, an unusually warm Arctic, and the swirling lobe of viciously cold air in the Midwest, the polar vortex—though meteorologists say all these effects are linked.