By Bill Becker (Part 1 can be found here)
With debate over the Keystone XL pipeline heating up, the White House has issued an update of President Obama’s “Blueprint for a Clean and Secure Energy Future“. It is the latest of White House policy pronouncements that leave us wondering whether President Obama will ever uncage his inner revolutionary to fight for genuine energy security.
At this point, it’s anyone’s guess. The blueprint’s content does not live up to the promise of its title. It contains stark contradictions. It sticks to Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy – a strategy transparently designed to keep all-of-the-above special interests happy. Because it supports all types of energy — including the fossil fuels responsible for global climate change — it advocates nothing.
Oil Production: The President’s energy blueprint acknowledges that “rising gas prices serve as a reminder that we are still too reliant on oil, which comes at a cost to American families and businesses.” It “urges Congress to take up common-sense proposals that will further reduce our dependence on oil”.
At the same time, it boasts that since President Obama took office, “responsible oil and gas production has increased each year” in the United States. “Under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years,” the President said last year. “Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75% of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high.”
If we are too dependent on oil, why is the President so bullish on producing more?
Energy Research: At a time the United States is under-investing in renewable energy R&D, the President’s new budget proposes $375 million for research on “cleaner energy from fossil fuels” including “more responsible” natural gas production and more funding for “clean coal” technology and carbon capture and storage.
While some fossil fuels are dirtier than others, none are clean. They all emit greenhouse gases when they are burned. They all involve environmental disruption when they are extracted. The cleanest of the fuels from a carbon standpoint, natural gas, has been accused of contaminating groundwater and leaking so much methane that it could be a bigger contributor to climate change than coal.
Meantime, clean energy is all around us but greatly underused. As others have pointed out, the greatest power plant ever created gives us free energy with no pollution, delivers it everywhere within seconds from 93 million miles away and won’t run out of fuel for 7 billion years. Rather than harvesting energy from the sun, why are we still trying so hard to dig it up from underground?
Corporate Welfare: To his credit, President Obama has urged Congress to repeal billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for the oil industry. But from the standpoint of an effective market, providing taxpayer money for research on “cleaner energy from fossil fuels” is no better. The coal, gas and oil industries are all grown up now and making pretty good livings. Most other businesses have to do their own R&D to remain relevant in a changing market. Why shouldn’t the fossil industries?
As for natural gas, why should taxpayers foot the bill to help the industry be more responsible? If gas companies don’t adopt more responsible production practices voluntarily, the government’s job is not to write them a check; it’s to implement regulations that protect the public. That’s what EPA is trying to do with the standards it announced last year to control methane and other air pollutants from oil and gas operations.
In the meantime gas companies aren’t showing a lot of interest in responsible production; instead they seem to be fracking and drilling as fast as they can before regulations can take effect.
Making Our Own Drug: The International Energy Agency predicts that fracking and horizontal drilling will make the United States the world’s largest oil producer sometime around 2017, surpassing even Saudi Arabia.
That would be a welcome change from nearly a half-century of dependence on foreign oil. But it also would make us the world’s biggest producer of one of the products most responsible for global climate disruption. Is that the title we want? Or, as the nation responsible for most of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere today, shouldn’t we set a more moral example as the nation that leads the world to a low-carbon economy?
Shouldn’t we at least have a national energy plan that defines how and when we’ll end our dependence on oil, foreign or domestic- a downramp that signals our commitment to other nations and gives financial markets an incentive to capitalize our transition to clean energy?