SOTU: Obama barely mentions energy, emphasizes climate change

US President Barack Obama briefly mentioned energy in his 2015 State of the Union address as he outlined economic improvements since the 2008-09 recession. He devoted more time to calling for meaningful steps to address global climate change as he listed challenges the country faces.

US President Barack Obama briefly mentioned energy in his 2015 State of the Union address as he outlined economic improvements since the 2008-09 recession. He devoted more time to calling for meaningful steps to address global climate change as he listed challenges the country faces.

“Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999,” Obama said during a Jan. 20 speech in the US House of Representative chamber. “Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.”

A few minutes later, he added, “We believed we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet. And today, America is No. 1 in oil and gas. America is No. 1 in wind power. Every 3 weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008. And thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save $750 at the pump.”

Later, in an obvious reference to the proposed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline project, Obama said, “Twenty-first century businesses need 21st century infrastructure—modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains, and the fastest internet. Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this. So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline. Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come.”

The omissions rankled two oil and gas trade association leaders. “America’s energy renaissance has profoundly strengthened our economy and is helping the president fulfill many of his policy goals,” American Petroleum Institute Pres. Jack N. Gerard said. “But his speech did not even begin to tell the whole story.”

Gerard said, “America is now a global energy superpower thanks to our oil and gas renaissance, but most of this development has occurred in spite of the federal government. Development on the federal lands under control of the administration has actually gone down consistently, and revenue from leasing also fell by over $1 billion in the last year.”

Growth despite policies

National Ocean Industries Association Pres. Randall B. Luthi also noted that US oil and gas supply growth has occurred on state and private land instead of within acreage under federal control.

“The president was certainly right about one thing: Low energy costs and gas prices have given American families and small businesses relief and have contributed to the recovering economy,” he said. “However, the increased supply of oil and gas and lower energy costs have occurred in spite of, not because of, the administration's energy policies.”

A third association executive, Interstate Natural Gas Association of America Pres. Donald F. Santa, said Obama acknowledged the role gas plays in the US economy, but added, “We must continue to expand America’s energy infrastructure to ensure that this success story continues, including by investigating ways to streamline pipeline permitting and get new pipelines built, while continuing to protect landowners and the environment.”

When he began to describe challenges confronting the US, Obama said combating global climate change was one of the biggest and most urgent.

“The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe,” he asserted.

“The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security,” the president said. “We should act like it.”

He said this was why his administration has done more than ever in the last 6 years to address climate change, “from the way we produce energy, to the way we use it.” He said, “That’s why we’ve set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history. And that’s why I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts.”

‘Helping working families’

His address’s general thrust was that the US economy should be one that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort, instead of one where only a few do spectacularly well. “Middle class economics means helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change,” Obama said. “That means helping folks afford child care, college, health care, a home, retirement—and my budget will address each of these issues, lowering the taxes of working families and putting thousands of dollars back into their pockets each year.”

He proposed making education more affordable by working to eliminate community college enrollment costs, making it easier for veterans to translate their training and experience into civilian jobs, and encouraging more businesses to offer more educational benefits and paid apprenticeships to employees without college or university degrees.

“The president can reduce income inequality by committing to America’s oil and gas renaissance for the long term,” Gerard suggested. “Our increased production in recent years has created millions of jobs and saved the average US household $1,200 in 2012, and we pay an average salary seven times higher than the minimum wage.”

He said the private sector could invest more than $1 trillion in US oil and gas infrastructure by 2025. “But, as we’ve seen with the political delays over the Keystone XL pipeline, our government is often the biggest obstacle to private investment in our economy,” API’s president said. “The government is standing in the way of jobs, economic growth, and America’s competitiveness.”

Luthi said the president and his administration have a prime opportunity to in the next few months to support a true all-of-the-above energy strategy which would strengthen the US economy further as it develops the next 5-year program for managing federal acreage on the US Outer Continental Shelf.

“Changing the current policy to one that would open new areas of the OCS would be a positive step in the right direction toward a truly all-of-the-above energy approach that recognizes the opportunity in developing all offshore energy resources, including oil, gas, and wind,” he said. “NOIA urges the president to help put America on this course by putting forward a 5-year OCS leasing program that opens new offshore areas for energy exploration and development.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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