President Obama came home to Chicago last week to talk about energy policy. Using the Argonne National Laboratory as a backdrop, he promoted the idea of creating an Energy Security Trust to fund alternatives to oil as a transportation fuel. Everything went according to script except for the folks outside protesting the Keystone XL pipeline. The protest was not to the liking of the entourage, including Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who complained to reporters on Air Force One during the flight back to DC.
The remarks are revealing. First of all, the administration is clearly not happy that people are still making an issue of the Keystone XL pipeline. Of course, they gladly accepted the cheers from environmentalists when the president put the pipeline on hold until the environmental impacts received more careful study. It played well with the president's base before the election. Five weeks after Obama's second inauguration, the State Department released a revised environmental impact statement largely written by consultants with strong ties to the oil industry. Oops.
Perhaps the administration really thought the opposition to the pipeline was a passing fancy. Perhaps they did not think every action related to the pipeline would be closely scrutinized and criticized. Those would be serious miscalculations. Climate activists are not a bunch of low information political party loyalists. With good reason. Climate change will shape energy, agricultural, military, and diplomatic policies across the globe during this century. This is not a boutique issue.
Clearly, Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest does not understand the opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. That would explain a statement like this.
“Thousands of miles of pipeline have been built since President Obama took office, and that hasn’t had a measurable impact on climate change.”He also does not understand climate change if he honestly believes that building infrastructure designed to facilitate oil and gas consumption will have no impact on climate change. Since the Keystone XL pipeline will be used to transport hydrocarbons with an enormous carbon footprint, it is particularly sloppy thinking to the point of deceit.
With his next breath, he tips his hand to the real issue.
“The truth is what we need to do is take an all of the above approach.”The administration has begun to forcefully market the "all of the above" energy policy. The president even used the phrase during his address from Argonne National Laboratory.
An "all of the above" energy policy is not designed nor conducive to address climate change. It is a politically expedient policy designed to keep everyone happy, particularly the big fossil fuels players. They get to keep their prized seats at the table. It does create a children's table for clean energy sources until they fully mature.
There are other clues to the administration's mindset when it comes to the issue of climate change and environmental activists.
For senior administration officials, the protests over the pipeline have distracted from the more important fights, and recent accomplishments, in the fight to reduce carbon pollution, which the president has again elevated to a priority since winning the election. At the Argonne National Laboratory, Obama praised recent government funded research to develop electric cars, and announced plans for a new $2 billion, 10-year National Energy Trust, which would provide new research funding for electric and low-emissions vehicles.Yes, the president has rediscovered the climate issue and begun to talk about it again after not mentioning it for almost three years. Talk is cheap unless backed up by action. The most recent projection by the Energy Department's Energy Information Agency has U.S. greenhouse gas emissions only 5% below 2005 levels by 2040. We promised a 17% reduction from 2005 levels by 2020 and a 42% reduction by 2030 as part of the Copenhagen accord, but fortunately those were not binding targets.
And then there is the shiny object principle. The Energy Security Trust is a shiny object that is supposed to make environmentalists go weak in the knees. It is a plan to divert a small fraction of oil and gas royalties on federal lands to fund alternative energy. If the plan called for raising royalties, then it would have an impact on carbon pricing. While funding alternatives to oil sounds nice, we also learned last week that the Department of Energy has not given out any new loans or seed money for renewable energy development since 2010 despite having $51 billion in unspent allocation. It is hard to believe that no worthy renewable energy projects have come along in over two years.
No doubt the Obama administration would like us to shut up about the Keystone XL pipeline. Protesters spoil photo-ops and distract from the preferred narrative. And we should be happy with whatever crumbs fall to clean energy as part of the "all of the above" energy strategy. The trouble is that carbon gas emissions are not slowing down, melting permafrost and warming oceans are beginning to release methane in large amounts, and climate-related catastrophes are becoming more common and much more expensive.
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