by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
When It Comes to Environmental Issues The State of theUnionAddress Falls Short
During President Obama’s fourth state of the union address, he said that “we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.” I shouted a big amen at the television. When it comes to the environment, or environmental issues, Obama said a few other things that got high marks from me, including his call to end subsidies to oil companies. “We’ve subsidized oil companies for a century,” Obama said. “That’s long enough. It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that rarely has been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that never has been more promising.”
Despite my praise for linking environmental measures with boosting the economy, and calling an end to subsidies for oil companies, I am less than thrilled with what Obama said about natural gas, and oil and gas drilling. The quote that I began this article with actually occurred in the context of Obama talking about natural gas. The entire quote reads: “The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.”
Mr. President, you should know by now that natural gas is not, nor will it ever be, clean. It is a fossil fuel, and although we have enough of it in this country to last almost 100 years, as you pointed out in your speech, drilling for it still causes damage to the environment, including releasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Mentioning GHGs reminds me that only once in his state of the union speech did Obama mention climate change or global warming. The environmental group, Friends of the Earth noted last year that Obama didn’t mention the biggest environmental crisis in his 2011 state of the union speech. “And we believe that the President, in failing to use his bully pulpit and talk openly about climate change, must share part of the blame for public misunderstanding of the science,” an FOE blog post stated.
Let’s go back to Obama’s remarks on natural gas. “Over the last three years, we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I’m directing my administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources,” Obama said. Opening more of our nation’s coastlines to offshore drilling? Is he kidding? Does he remember the damage that occurred during the Gulf oil spill of almost two years ago? Perhaps those of us who care about the environment should remind him.
Many environmental groups posted responses to the state of the union, including the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Yet even as the president promoted clean energy development, he also called for an increase in domestic drilling,” an NRDC blog post stated. “We all want American energy independence, but we have to do it right.” Yes, energy impendence must be done “right,” and the only way it can be right for the environment is to invest in the research and development (R&D) of truly clean energy and technologies.
Another environmental group, Food & Water Watch, observes that the “energy portion of President Obama’s speech sounded like it could have been written by the oil and gas industry.” That’s a very interesting observation considering that Obama received $884,000 from the oil and gas industry during his 2008 presidential campaign.
Food & Water Watch has a petition addressed to Obama asking him to stop fracking, or hydraulic fracturing. Fracking is a drilling method used to reach shale oil. It is a method that pollutes the air and water, and releases more GHG emissions than conventional means. I signed the petition after writing this article because I just don’t think Obama gets it about fracking, given what he said about natural gas and oil during the state of the union speech. Maybe you should sign it, too. It will certainly take enough of us telling Obama to bring an end to fracking for him to hear above the din of the campaign dollars.