Posts Tagged ‘sotu’

Obama’s State of Union will likely hit on a number of energy policy themes: climate change, promotion of offshore drilling, clean energy. The President’s statements on climate change were previewed in his January 21 inaugural address, when he declared “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.  Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it.”

The 2007 Supreme Court ruled the EPA must regulate greenhouse gasses under its existing Clean Air Act authority if it finds a scientific basis that such emissions pose a danger to public health. This summer, a Republican-led federal appeals court ruled that the EPAs compilation of the science of climate change was overwhelming and compelling, thereby requiring the Agency to act.

Obama has already used this authority to implement ground-breaking greenhouse gas emission rules for cars and trucks, and has proposed rules for new power plants that rule out the construction of conventional coal power plants. Tonight’s State of the Union will likely propose new rules over existing power plants.

And this is where Southern’s $100,000 contribution to Obama’s 2013 Inaguaration may become a factor. Southern Co was the only utility to make a contribution.  Obama’s climate change rules for cars were developed with auto industry support – previewing a framework for how rules over existing power plants may play out. In 2009 Obama was content to let the House take the lead in putting together climate rules to ensure there’d be shared responsibility among the legislative & executive branches on economy-wide legislation that was sure to be controversial in some circles. While Obama quickly abandoned succeeding Senate efforts to draft a companion bill after concluding that the cap ‘n trade approach was too politically risky, Obama pivoted in his 2011 SOTU around a clean energy standard that promoted nuclear and natural gas that had very similar emissions reduction targets as the Waxman Markey bill.

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In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama embraced the development of unconventional natural gas. In step with the theme of the address, the president highlighted both the abundance of the domestic resource and its job creation potential.

President Obama Overstates the Benefits of Natural Gas

In response, anti-fracking groups including the National Grassroots Coalition, United for Action, Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy and Protecting Our Waters immediately challenged the resource supply and job statistics cited by President Obama, saying in an email to supports,

He was referring to industry-produced studies predicting 600,000 jobs as estimates from “experts”, but the real experts — the Bureau of Labor Statistics — predict less than one-fourth that numbers by 2018.

And the president, like the industry, fails to estimate how many jobs will be lost — far too many farmers, for example, have already lost their livelihoods due to extreme pollution and animal deaths caused by shale gas drilling.

The President overstated the amount of shale gas believed to be recoverable: proven reserves will provide 7 to 11 years, and unproven (speculative) reserves may provide up to 20 years, which does not add up to 100. The federal Energy Information Agency just dropped its estimate from Marcellus reserves down to 6 years from its previous estimate of 17 years.

Disagreement about the amount of natural gas that can be recovered from shale and how many jobs could be created by this industry is certainly an important discussion, but it is secondary to the discussion of whether or not extracting this resource can be done safely.

Chemical Disclosure Requirement Would Only Apply to a Small Percentage of Wells

President Obama followed his endorsement of natural gas development by stating that he will require all companies that drill on public land to disclose chemical use “because America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.” This proposed disclosure requirement, which is currently making its way through the Department of Interior rulemaking process, seems intended to soothe public anxiety around the practice of hydraulic fracturing or fracking. However, the rule referenced here would apply only to gas drilling on public land.

According to the Bureau of Land Management, only about 11 percent of all U.S. natural gas production occurred on federal land, and the department estimates that hydraulic fracturing is used for about 90 percent of gas wells drilled on public lands.

The vast majority of fracking is done on private land, and only a handful of the 33 states where fracking occurs have adopted some kind of requirement that the chemicals used be disclosed to the public. In fact, according to a report prepared by the Wilderness Society for the Department of Energy’s subcommittee on natural gas, “only one [state] requires full public disclosure of the chemical components of hydraulic fracturing fluids: Wyoming. Three other states (Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee) provided some disclosure of chemicals, but not to the public or in sufficient detail.”

Disclosure Requirements are Not Enough

And while it is clear that we need a national standard for disclosure of fracking chemicals, this alone would not safeguard the public against the risks associated with fracking. Many questions about the safety of this practice remain unanswered. There have been more than 1,000 documented cases of water contamination near drilling sites around the country. Meanwhile, the industry is drilling new wells at an alarming pace. According to a ProPublica investigation, between 2003 and 2008, the number of new wells drilled in fracking states increased 42 percent. Aside from the rulemaking for drilling on public lands being undertaken by the Department of Interior, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency are conducting studies on the safety and impacts of hydraulic fracking.

At the minimum, fracking should be halted before the conclusion of these studies. And it goes without saying, that the president should not be promoting an underregulated and unproven technology as a central component of his energy platform.

Photo courtesy of Flickr


One of the most glaring omissions during Obama’s State of the Union address was the acknowledgement of climate change.  As the Senate and House return to Capitol Hill both sides are gearing up to attack the existing tool in place to address greenhouse gases – the Clean Air Act.

Republicans in the House Energy and Commerce are planning to roll out a bill in the next four to six weeks to challenge EPA authority over GHGs.  It is expected to attack the EPA’s air transport rules, its new source review requirements and its plans to impose new greenhouse gas standards large facilities.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is also expected to introduce legislation to permanently eliminate greenhouse gas regulation through the Clean Air Act. In the absence of climate legislation the Clean Air Act will provide the necessary regulation to reach our long-term emissions reductions.

Instead of addressing these threats to the Clean Air Act, Obama shifted the focus to the need for “clean energy” – stating the goal of an 80% clean energy sector by 2035 – a seemingly positive objective if the energy sources he referred to were actually clean.  But in this case, dirty energy by any other name is still dirty energy.  Obama’s clean energy plan includes dirty technologies such as nuclear reactors, coal, natural gas and biomass.  Learn more here

What happened to the Oil Spill Crisis?

The President’s oil spill commission released its final report and recommendation earlier this month. The day after the State of Union commission chairs hit both the Senate and House to brief key committees on congressional action necessary to prevent another oil spill the magnitude of what gushed into the Gulf of Mexico.  Unfortunately, Obama abandoned the commission by failing to mention the urgency of oil spill legislation to the joint chambers.  As important as “winning the future” is, protecting our workers, environment and local economies in the future should be the top priority.

I fully support Obama’s long held goal to repeal the oil industry’s massive federal subsidies, which he raised in the State of the Union, but I am disappointed that he elected to ignore the crisis of lax safety and environmental standards endemic in oil and gas activities.  I urge President Obama to remember that the state of our union is moot if the state of our planet continues to decline.

Allison Fisher is the Outreach Director for Public Citizen’s Energy Program


The Obama administration’s 2011 budget proposes tripling the nuclear loan guarantee program from the $18.5 billion that Congress has already approved to $54.5 billion.

When deciding to expand this program did he confer with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission?

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko recently quoted that the best estimate for a new reactor’s price tag is about $10 billion. “Very few utilities have the capability or market capitalization equivalent to that kind of cost,” he said.

Did he speak with the Congressional Budget Office?

The Congressional Budget Office has rated the risk of default on a nuclear loan guarantee to be well above 50 percent. In the event of default, taxpayers are on the hook to bailout the industry.

Did he speak with his base?

According to MoveOn, who ran its first ever dial group on a SOTU speech. Far and away the largest negative spike in the speech was on the dirty energy section where he pushed nukes and oil-drilling.

Did he speak with the nuclear industry?

“Federal loan guarantees are absolutely critical to our proposed new project at Calvert Cliffs in southern Maryland,” said George Vanderheyden, president and CEO, UniStar Nuclear Energy, during the Power Engineering interview. “It’s become very clear to us given what’s going on in the greater economy-not just the U.S., the global economy-that private equity has no interest in investing in this project right now and the financial markets are not able to support a nuclear energy facility at this stage.”

Would you like to speak to Obama about putting your tax dollars at risk for dirty energy?  Click here.

Allison Fisher is the Energy Organizer at Public Citizen


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