Quantcast

A Closer Look at Obama's 'All of the Above' Energy Policy

Fracking

DeSmogBlog

By Sharon Kelly

A year ago, President Obama set forth his vision of America’s energy policy. “We need an energy strategy for the future," he said in a message still prominently displayed on the White House website, "an all-of-the-above strategy for the 21st century that develops every source of American-made energy.”

During the presidential debates, he hammered repeatedly an "all of the above" theme, though he also surprised many by making a strong statement about the urgency of confronting climate change during his second term.

This week, President Obama once more talked about his "all the above" strategy as he announced that he was setting aside $2 billion for research and development on alternative transportation fuels.

Things are looking up for renewable energy, right? Not so fast.

Obama's choice for new directors of the three agencies with the most relevance to climate change—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Energy and Department of the Interior—do not sew confidence that real change is coming.

Obama selected Ernest Moniz as his choice to run the Department of Energy. An MIT professor and a proponent of fracking, Moniz recently led a controversial study that supported exporting liquefied natural gas and has taken a stance in favor of so-called “clean coal.” His long-standing support for nuclear power was unwavering even in the face of the Fukushima disaster.

The U.S. EPA will be headed by Gina McCarthy, currently the assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, where she crafted the EPA’s first air pollution rules for fracking and oversaw the development of as-yet-unfinalized standards that would essentially end new construction of coal-fired facilities without carbon capture or other techniques. She has drawn support from both environmentalists and industry alike.

And the person who will oversee the use of public lands is Sally Jewell, a former Mobil Oil engineer and now President and Chief Executive Officer of Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI). Obama announced her appointment as secretary of Interior, where she will make crucial decisions about leasing federal land for oil and gas fracking or for renewable energy development. Though Jewell has a reputation as a conservationist, she has disclosed owning stock in numerous oil and gas companies, including Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Apache Corp., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp, along with Schlumberger and Halliburton.

All of these nominees are known for their active support of an “all of the above” approach on energy.

“I do believe that for this decade, in my context of moving toward lower carbon, natural gas will be a major bridge but it is only a bridge to what I believe will be a required deployment of zero carbon options and we have to see what nuclear’s role is in there,” Moniz told a Senate committee in 2011.

All three of these appointees will help determine whether to build the Keystone XL pipeline or promote shale oil and gas production on federal lands. They will also make major decisions that will affect our energy infrastructure for decades.

The $2 billion clean transportation initiative Obama announced last Friday, described as intended to replace fossil fuels in cars, follows the same pattern. It not only funds research into electric vehicles, biofuels and fuel cells, but also will promote natural gas vehicles.

But a major fallacy lies behind the "all of the above" energy trope President Obama and his nominees have espoused. As an overarching philosophy it sounds appealing and the rhetoric of inclusiveness is beguiling. But as an energy policy, it does not work because fossil fuels have historically had a huge leg up on renewables in terms of subsidies and federal loopholes and advances in technology have only recently made renewables cost competitive with cheap oil, gas and coal.

Wind and solar are at an even deeper disadvantage because the shale gas boom has flooded the market with cheap natural gas—at least over the short run—enticing consumers and utility companies alike. When natural gas supplies are on offer at a fraction of what it costs buy wind or solar energy, what choice do budget-conscious buyers have?

The fallacy of an "all of the above" theme is akin to that behind the "bridge fuel" meme that the drilling industry aggressively promoted as recently as a year ago.

As you surely will recall, proponents of natural gas touted new shale deposits and called for accelerated drilling because natural gas was—according to them—a green alternative to the "old" fossil fuels. Unlike coal and oil, natural gas burned cleaner and would serve as a way for our economy to wean itself from the dirty old fossil fuels to the new green renewables. Indeed, natural gas would serve as a bridge, they said.
 
This idea has been thoroughly debunked by now. The world is warming far too quickly for such a bridge to be built in time. If climate change is going to be reversed or halted, a transition away from fossil fuels has to occur sooner.

Furthermore, the process of extracting natural gas at the wellhead emits enough unburned methane, which has climate changing impacts that can be 30 to 100 times more destructive than those from carbon dioxide, to negate any benefits of lower carbon dioxide emissions at power plants.

Much as the idea of a “bridge fuel” is a mirage—so too is the concept of an "all of the above" approach. It serves as a tool to keep alternate fuels on a distant horizon and distract from the urgent need to shift our energy infrastructure now.

But there is a larger political lesson to be learned here about President Obama and his political calculus when it comes to the environment. It is a lesson that was recently summed up best by energy analyst, Jigar Shah, who made the point that since day one in office, the ever-studious and contemplative Obama has opted on energy for "invention over deployment" and "R&D over job creation and carbon reduction."

What Shah meant is that rather than reckoning with the fact that time is running out regarding climate change and forging ahead with a clear plan to lessen the amount of fossil fuels we use and sharply increase the use of wind and solar and other renewable technology we already have in hand, the president is opting to take the opposite approach: accelerate drilling and further study into renewables.

One quick side note on the ticking clock urgency that is upon us. One need not look far to see that even some of the most conservative commentators around get it. Just read, for example, what Thomas Friedman, by no-means a wild-eyed treehugger, has said recently. In perhaps his most clear-eyed piece on it, Friedman makes this basic point:

"Let’s look at the huge carbon and financial deficits we’re amassing. For thousands of years up to the dawn of the industrial age 200 years ago, the Earth’s atmosphere contained 280 parts per million of the heat-trapping greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Today, that number is nearly 400 p.p.m., with 450 p.p.m. routinely cited as the tipping point where we create the conditions for out-of-control acceleration."

But President Obama does not seem to recognize this urgency and all signs thus far into his second term seem to indicate that he plans to continue down the path he set during his first term.

Consider his announcement last week: $2 billion for more research on clean transportation. That sounds like a lot of money, especially during a recession. It's actually not. Remember that the stimulus plan set aside over $30 billion for this sort of research and most of it is spent, yet the economy is not a whole lot closer to shifting toward renewables. Meanwhile, most experts agree that we already have the technological capacity to start making the transition to cleaner fuels.

The real reason that Obama is reluctant to direct the weight of the federal government toward the deployment rather than the study of renewables has to do with politics. He got clobbered by the Solyndra scandal. That was the debacle where a solar energy company collapsed, leaving taxpayers on the hook for $535 million.

Even though billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted over the years through subsidies to oil and gas companies, Obama has allowed the Republicans to hammer him with the Solyndra club every time he even glances at the wind or solar industries.

His recent nominees, often described as pragmatic or realistic regulators, seem unlikely to push back and take the type of assertive stance against oil and gas development that is called for.

This is especially true of Moniz, who is currently director of the MIT Energy Initiative, which, since 2006, has received more than $125 million in pledges from the oil and gas industry, according to the Public Accountability Initiative. Moniz also has served on the board of directors of ICF Consulting, which came under fire after it was found that the firm, which has oil and gas industry clients, supplied key analysis for the State Department’s controversial assessment of the Keystone XL project.

"We're concerned that, as energy secretary, Ernest Moniz may take a politically expedient view of harmful fracking and divert resources from solar, geothermal and other renewable energy sources vital to avoiding climate disaster," said Bill Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement. "We're also concerned that Moniz would be in a position to delay research into the dangers fracking poses to our air, water and climate."

This comes at a time when technological advances have made the idea of relying exclusively on wind and solar more and more practical.

A study announced last week, and soon to be published in the journal Energy Policy, assessed New York state’s energy needs and mapped out a potential program to run the entire state on wind, sun, geothermal energy and water, eliminating dependence on coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power within 17 years.

"We must be ambitious if we want to promote energy independence and curb global warming," said study co-author Robert Howarth, a Cornell University professor of ecology and environmental biology. "The economics of this plan make sense," added Anthony Ingraffea, a Cornell engineering professor and a co-author of the study. "Now it is up to the political sphere.

Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY and RENEWABLES pages for more related news on this topic.

——–

Click here to tell Congress to Expedite Renewable Energy.

 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A protest march against the Line 3 pipeline in St. Paul, Minnesota on May 18, 2018. Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0

By Collin Rees

We know that people power can stop dangerous fossil fuel projects like the proposed Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline in Minnesota, because we've proved it over and over again — and recently we've had two more big wins.

Read More Show Less
Scientists released a study showing that a million species are at risk for extinction, but it was largely ignored by the corporate news media. Danny Perez Photography / Flickr / CC

By Julia Conley

Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pixabay

Summer is fast approaching, which means it's time to stock up on sunscreen to ward off the harmful effects of sun exposure. Not all sunscreens are created equally, however.

Read More Show Less
Mark Wallheiser / Getty Images

The climate crisis is a major concern for American voters with nearly 40 percent reporting the issue will help determine how they cast their ballots in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, according to a report compiled by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Of more than 1,000 registered voters surveyed on global warming, climate and energy policies, as well as personal and collective action, 38 percent said that a candidate's position on climate change is "very important" when it comes to determining who will win their vote. Overall, democratic candidates are under more pressure to provide green solutions as part of their campaign promises with 64 percent of Democrat voters saying they prioritize the issue compared with just 34 percent of Independents and 12 percent of Republicans.

Read More Show Less
Flooding in Winfield, Missouri this month. Jonathan Rehg / Getty Images

President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will help Americans still recovering from the flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in the past two years. Senate Republicans said they struck a deal with the president to approve the measure, despite the fact that it did not include the funding he wanted for the U.S.-Mexican border, CNN reported.

"The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" the president tweeted Thursday.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Reed Hoffmann / Getty Images

Violent tornadoes tore through Missouri Wednesday night, killing three and causing "extensive damage" to the state's capital of Jefferson City, The New York Times reported.

"There was a lot of devastation throughout the state," Governor Mike Parson said at a Thursday morning press conference, as NPR reported. "We were very fortunate last night that we didn't have more injuries than what we had, and we didn't have more fatalities across the state. But three is too many."

Read More Show Less

georgeclerk / E+ / Getty Images

By Jennifer Molidor

One million species are at risk of extinction from human activity, warns a recent study by scientists with the United Nations. We need to cut greenhouse gas pollution across all sectors to avoid catastrophic climate change — and we need to do it fast, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This research should serve as a rallying cry for polluting industries to make major changes now. Yet the agriculture industry continues to lag behind.

Read More Show Less
Edwin Remsburg / VW Pics / Getty Images

Botswana, home to one third of Africa's elephants, announced Wednesday that it was lifting its ban on the hunting of the large mammals.

"The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism wishes to inform the public that following extensive consultations with all stakeholders, the Government of Botswana has taken a decision to lift the hunting suspension," the government announced in a press release shared on social media.

Read More Show Less