This week, Democrats have proclaimed that, after four years of inaction, President Barack Obama is finally ready to do something about the growing crisis of climate change. Their evidence: Obama talked about climate change in his State of the Union Address. Talk about climate change, of course, is something that we’ve seen plenty of times in the past, and it’s never led to climate action.
Take a look at what Barack Obama actually said in his speech this week, and your confidence in the likelihood of significant legislation or executive action to deal with climate change may fade. Consider what Obama had to say about natural gas: “…the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that, and that’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.”
Did you catch the shift in the President’s argument? He (A) starts out by saying that natural gas is cleaner than other old sources of energy, and then (B) proposes cutting red tape to encourage drilling for natural gas and oil. Oil is one of those dirty old energy sources that natural gas is supposed to be superior to… so why is Barack Obama proposing that we make it easier for oil companies to drill even more of it? It’s a bait-and-switch.
The idea of “cutting red tape” sounds sensible and efficient… until you stop to think about it. Just where is the supposed “red tape” that’s preventing large scale drilling for oil and natural gas? Neither Barack Obama nor Congress have made it more difficult for fossil fuel energy companies to drill for oil, even after the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, Obama has expanded offshore drilling.
“Cutting red tape” is a phrase that, when translated out of D.C. political language, means this: Eliminating safeguards and regulation. In the State of the Union, Barack Obama proposed eliminating safeguards and regulations that currently restrain the power of the fossil fuel industry.
This proposal should be particularly disturbing to opponents of hydrofracking, a controversial method for extracting natural gas from shale formations, and even if fracking was proven to be completely safe, burning natural gas would not be. Yes, natural gas burns cleaner than petroleum and coal, but that doesn’t mean that it actually burns cleanly. Burning natural gas releases pollutants, including greenhouse gases that accelerate climate change.
Barack Obama’s suggestion that we fight climate change by burning more fossil fuels is laughable to those who understand the environmental problems we face. To those who only catch a spot of news during their daily commute to work, however, Barack Obama’s carefully crafted words may be appealing.
After the State of the Union Address, we need to do more than accept the easy story of an environmental White House. We need to scrutinize what Barack Obama actually said, and watch what he actually does and does not do.