As President Obama prepares to deliver his State of the Union address, he must explain why his administration’s policies on clean energy, climate and environmental goals have not lived up to his own standards. The President declares it is his policy to:
“Build the foundation for a clean energy economy, tackle the issue of climate change, and protect our environment.”
But his actions speak otherwise. In doing so, he is ignoring his own administration’s best available science on energy and the environment.
Fighting Climate Change or Promoting Fracking — You Can’t Do Both
As the environmental community argued in a letter to President Obama earlier this month, his “all of the above” energy policy is incompatible with fighting climate change. It is impossible to encourage fossil fuel extraction, particularly the development of shale gas and oil that must be hydraulically fractured (“fracked”), and simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
How do we know?
Because government climate experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have twice measured the greenhouse gas emissions associated with oil and gas development. The first time, they found that natural gas fields release enough methane to make it — in climate damaging terms — as bad for the climate as burning coal. The second time, they not only confirmed the original findings; they found that natural gas is much worse than coal for the climate.
To be clear, burning fracked gas is much cleaner than burning coal, but these NOAA studies show that the process of extracting and transporting fracked gas erases its climate advantage.
Protecting Communities from Drilling and Fracking Impacts Shouldn’t Include Running Away from Investigations of Pollution
In 2011, President Obama promised that unconventional oil and gas would be safely extracted without damaging our water or our health.
Yet in three different cases, his own Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified water pollution caused by drilling and fracking and then mysteriously ended its investigations each time the agency came close to making a formal public declaration that these operations polluted drinking water.
Just last month, the EPA’s Inspector General determined that the EPA had scientific evidence that the fracking company Range Resources polluted residents’ drinking water near Weatherford, Texas. But, the report found that after taking legal action to force Range to compensate residents and clean up its mess, the EPA withdrew from the case without explanation.
Similar cases have occurred in Pavillion, Wyoming and Dimock, Pennsylvania. EPA investigations were about to culminate in concrete action to protect communities, or declare drilling or fracking at fault for polluting drinking water — but the EPA instead abruptly ended its involvement.
An administration that is committed to protecting communities and the environment from the impacts of drilling and fracking should not be shrinking from evidence that these activities are harming communities and the environment. But that is apparently the Obama administration’s current policy.
Increasing Energy Exports Flies in the Face of Common Sense
By permitting the export of natural gas, the President is ignoring common sense and his own arguments about energy independence.
It is universally agreed that exporting energy, especially fracked natural gas, will mean:
Higher domestic energy prices
More domestic fracking and drilling
Fewer U.S. energy resources remain in the U.S.
Although some studies of the economic impacts of energy exports show corporate bottom lines might benefit, no economic study shows U.S. consumers will directly benefit. Like NAFTA, the WTO or the Trans Pacific Partnership, any benefit for ordinary people would have to “trickle down”.
And assuming the Obama administration’s experts — NOAA and the EPA — are right, more fracking and drilling means worse climate change emissions, and more risk of drinking water contamination.
Dirty water, worse climate change and higher energy prices; increased energy exports are a raw deal for U.S. consumers.
What’s a President to Do?
Stop encouraging fossil fuel development and truly commit to a truly clean energy future. The list below represents action that President Obama can take now, without legislative approval or help from Congress.
Use the power of the EPA and the Department of the Interior to fully regulate methane from oil and gas development in order to combat climate change.
Reopen the EPA investigations into drinking water contamination from drilling in Texas, Wyoming and Pennsylvania.
Discourage the export of fossil fuels by supporting the current ban on crude oil exports, blocking coal exports and denying additional LNG export facility licenses.
Declare a moratorium on drilling on public lands until the ecological and climate impacts can be fully determined.
Block the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
Throw the full weight and power of the U.S government behind renewables and conservation and away from fossil fuels.
The President’s “all of the above” energy policy is simply “drill baby drill” by another name. There is yet hope for President Obama’s vision of a clean energy future, if he turns away from the oil and gas industry and towards truly renewable energy.