As anticipated, President Obama used a hefty part of last night’s State of the Union Address to outline his climate change policy and call for more action on climate change, and he didn’t pull any punches. After mentioning “dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet,” he boiled the situation down to this: the recent period of record high temperatures along with historic droughts, floods, wildfires and storms is not a “freak coincidence,” it is the result of a dangerous warming trend that demands action “before it’s too late.”
The President didn’t go into specifics, but he did drop a couple of hints about his plans for action over the next four years, at least some of which he pledged to accomplish by executive order if Congress fails to act.
First, the Bad News
The President did say a couple of things that raised a red flag. First, in a part of the speech about the need for infrastructure improvements, he mentioned the p-word, as in pipeline. He could have been referring to any pipeline, particularly water pipes, but then again it could have been a reference to the notorious Keystone XL Pipeline.
The idea of accelerating the permit process for gas and oil drilling also doesn’t bode well for those of us who have been following the gas fracking issue. On the other hand, given his Administration’s dogged attempts to close the gaping loopholes in fracking regulations, he could have in mind a tradeoff: a quicker process, but far more restrictive.
The Obama Climate Change Policy
If the President’s plans for wind and solar power were a little shy on details, there’s a good reason for that. He already came up with a plan several years ago, and it’s already being implemented.
Back in 2011, the Administration launched the SunShot Initiative with the goal of making solar power as cheap as fossil fuel. The wide-ranging initiative is a public-private partnership that covers the development of new high-efficiency solar cells, utility-scale projects as well as affordable rooftop projects, and reducing the “soft costs” of installation (such as permits, inspections and grid connections — these can account for half the total cost of a typical installation).
Wind power has also been getting a public–private boost from the Obama Administration, primarily through the establishment of shared wind power test facilities that enable private companies to cut down on R&D costs.
No More Oil for Cars?
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the President’s plan was his suggestion that oil and gas revenues from drilling on public lands be used to fund new research that would “shift our cars and trucks off oil for good.”
Did he mean that as a threat, to get the oil and gas industry to quit pressuring him to allow more oil and gas drilling on public land? Who knows?
In any case, as with the aforementioned wind and solar initiatives, the Obama Administration is already well on the way to establishing an electric vehicle infrastructure in the U.S. with public–private partnerships for charging stations, advanced battery research, and other aspects of the EV sector.
The Administration also has other renewable energy projects well under way — for example, biogas initiatives through the AgStar program, and brownfields reclamation for wind and solar through Re-Powering America’s Lands, to say nothing of the U.S. military’s hand-over-fist adoption of renewable energy.
So yeah, when the President says that he will take action, with or without the help of Congress, he probably means it.
Fasten your seatbelts…
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.