In his State of the Union Speech, President Obama refuses to say the “c” word – coal

sotu2014
President Barack Obama during the 2014 State of the Union speech

UNITED States President Barack Obama has just finished his state of the union address and the nation’s coal industry must be wondering what they did to offend him so much.

Maybe it was the climate change thing?

Yes, it’s probably that.

Because while the intergenerational challenge of climate change formed a key plank of the president’s speech, the other “c” word – coal – just didn’t get a look in.

The President did refer to “power plants” but only to remind Americans that he had told his Environmental Protection Agency  “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.”

Obama made clear that he sees the country’s booming fracked gas industry as “the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change”.

The problem with this approach, though, is that by embracing fracked gas you risk delaying the clean energy revolution that only renewables can offer in the long term.

A few months ago I wrote on my Guardian Planet Oz blog how the President was making the challenge of tackling climate change a simpler question of right versus wrong. He did it again today.

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.

If Obama wants to be able to say to his children that Americans did “all we could” to fight climate change when he was the leader of the free world, then I doubt they would see the liberation of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from burning gas as being a particularly prudent measure.

But leaving aside this internal inconsistency,  Obama is clearly happy to pick winners in energy policy.

Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar; every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced. Let’s continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do.

Eradicating subsidies for fossil fuels has long been on the agenda of the world’s foremost energy policy advisory group, the International Energy Agency.  Currently global subsidies for the fossil fuel industry stand well above US$400 billion.

IEA chief economist Fatih Birol says the renewable energy industry should see fossil fuel subsidies as “public enemy number one“.

Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency denies the US Government is waging a “war on coal” but this SOTU address makes it clear that he sees little future for the ageing and polluting  industry.

The President has what he has described as an “all of the above” energy policy, but judging from this speech, “all of the above” no longer includes coal.

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Author: Graham

Graham Readfearn is a Brisbane-based journalist. Go to the About page in the top navigation for more information.

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