Obama: Jekyll & Hyde On Energy

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Originally published on ClimateProgress.
By Dr Joe Romm


In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama once again tried to reconcile the split personality of his energy policy.

On the one hand, the President clearly stated his Dr. Jekyll commitment to cutting carbon pollution and fighting climate change. But not before he pushed his Mr. Hyde expansion of domestic fossil fuel production, starting early in the speech, where he touted this success: “More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world –- the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years.”

And he repeated this theme when he began the energy and climate part of his speech:

The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today, America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades….

It’s not just oil and natural gas production that’s booming; we’re becoming a global leader in solar, too.

Finally, he touted his climate policy:

Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth. But we have to act with more urgency -– because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods. That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities, and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air. 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.

The climate passage is great. It shows that he is committed to using the power he has to cut carbon pollution without waiting for Congress to act.

But it is surprising that he stuck with his “all of the above” framing — given that just one week ago the leaders of pretty much every major environmental organization in the country sent him a letter saying this approach is fundamentally incompatible with his climate policy:

We believe that continued reliance on an “all of the above” energy strategy would be fundamentally at odds with your goal of cutting carbon pollution and would undermine our nation’s capacity to respond to the threat of climate disruption. With record-high atmospheric carbon concentrations and the rising threat of extreme heat, drought, wildfires and super storms, America’s energy policies must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, not simply reduce our dependence on foreign oil….

… an “all of the above” approach that places virtually no limits on whether, when, where or how fossil fuels are extracted ignores the impacts of carbon-intense fuels and is wrong for America’s future….

An “all of the above” strategy is a compromise that future generations can’t afford. It fails to prioritize clean energy and solutions that have already begun to replace fossil fuels, revitalize American industry, and save Americans money.

In short, the State of our Union’s approach to energy is in a state of disunion.

What is the result of Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy? First off, it is far from clear that total carbon pollution is actually lower — given how leaky natural gas production is and how potent a greenhouse gas methane is (see my November post “Bombshell Study Finds Methane Emissions From Natural Gas Production Far Higher Than EPA Estimates.”

Second, even ignoring the huge methane leaks, whatever benefit the shale-gas revolution has had in reducing U.S. emissions has also been vitiated by our all-of-the-above energy strategy and our continued coal extraction for export, as this chart makes clear:


America’s contribution to the global problem of ever-rising carbon production and consumption grows unabated.

I applaud Obama’s commitment to EPA standards on carbon pollution from power plants. But his continued embrace of “all of the above” energy reflects a true Jekyll and Hyde split personality.

Let’s hope that unlike the progression of the Robert Louis Stevenson novella, Obama’s “Hyde” side doesn’t take over. We’ll know the answer to that whenever the President gets around to making the decision on Keystone XL — since the tar sands pipeline is simply not compatible with a serious commitment to avoiding catastrophic climate change.

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4 thoughts on “Obama: Jekyll & Hyde On Energy

  • I totally disagree that all of the above would be incompatible with climate action. If we had an energy supply with 10% coal, 10% nuclear, 20% natural gas, 15% solar, 20% wind, 15% Hydro and 10% all remaining renewables or something vaguely along those lines we would have an “all of the above” energy strategy, a stable grid and emissions far far below what we have today. Longer term I’d like to see fossil fuels disappear from our energy scene altogether but I think realistically I don’t see them playing no part until well past 2030.

  • I’m not recommending using graphs for persuasion, but I will. The graph you show is confusing. It may be something a science-y guy would prepare who spent most of his career in policy.

    I’m guessing its the mass of coal, oil and gas extracted from the earth converted to BTU (oil equivalent) and converted again to a CO2, based on an average combustion efficiency. Based on the graph, which lacks axes titles by the way, the US is extracting CO2, which is silly.

    I’m assuming the story the author is trying to tell is, over time, carbon (as solid, liquid, gas) extraction (in CO2 combustion equivalent) went rapidly up until about the 1990s. Since then the rate of extraction has slowed down.

    Some will say that we’ve fixed the problem and it’s time to party. Some wouldn’t say this.

    I recommend showing the same base data, but in a little different form. A reader is going to assume that most of the fossil fuel extracted gets burned. Yes some of it goes into materials, where it is thrown out and collects in a floating island the size of Texas somewhere in the Pacific ocean.

    Present two graphs: graph 1 shows the extraction rate in mass or energy or CO2 per year versus time; graph 2 shows the accumulated total of the functional data again versus time. The first graph will show the slowing down because the rate of extraction (or CO2 generation) is slowing down or maybe even decreasing. The second graph would show the accumulation of fossil fuel combustion product (CO2) ever increasing, where the curve goes skyward. The second graph would really emphasize the ever increasing pumping of CO2 based on fossil fuel combustion.

  • Rohm continues to be an emopro. His shortsighted approach does more harm than good as he continues to piss on people that share his values but are actually working to get something done.

    The President of the United States cannot crash the economy by abruptly stopping our use of fossil fuels. We simply do not have enough renewable generation available. The President must follow a pragmatic route of reducing fossil fuel use, moving fossil fuels from coal to natural gas, and building more renewables.

    Joe needs to support PBO’s actions, not attack him for doing the smart thing.

  • Each day, week and year, the kinds of energy we use is being sorted out in the energy marketplace.

    As more people become educated on the harm caused to the environment by fossil and nuclear (and their obscene subsidy levels, not to mention the implied subsidy of Externalities) consumer buying patterns will dictate change.

    In fact, that is already happening.

    Why are gigawatts of new wind and solar replacing new and old fossil and preempting some new nuclear? Why are the Tesla, LEAF and Prius such a hit?

    Because with an all-of-the-above approach, the consumer buying patterns (instead of government diktat) are making those market choices.

    In the end, renewables will win out and fossil and nuclear will be marginalized, EV’s and Hybrids will become the standard.

    Until then, the economy needs energy, and yes, for now, that means some fossil and nuclear. The market will cause fossil and nuclear to decline as time rolls forward. We are winning, this is no time to panic.

    Cheers, JBS

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