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Clint Wilder Headshot

Time to Retire the 'All of the Above' Energy Catchphrase

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President Obama's State of the Union address was generally positive for the clean energy industry. He talked tough about the executive branch acting on carbon reduction if Congress won't, praised solar power and other clean energy sources as critical to America's global innovation leadership, and called for an end to $4 billion a year in fossil-fuel subsidies. But once again, he trotted out a phrase that I wish would be relegated to the dustbin of history, touting his "All of the Above" energy strategy.

This may have had a nice ring to it at one point, but in 2014 it is misleading and actually not even accurate. Obama might not come out and say it, but he is certainly not aggressively pushing development of new coal or nuclear plants. With some exceptions, the administration's policy tracks fairly well with the energy mix that we at Clean Edge think should be the near-term direction for the developed world: efficiency (such as Obama's proposal of stricter fuel-economy standards for trucks), natural gas, and renewables. He did heap high praise on natural gas and lauded U.S. domestic oil production, along with renewables. But that does not add up to "all", nor should it.

The United States should not move full speed ahead on all energy sources; we should focus on some, and try to move away from others. "All of the Above" strikes me as a lazy political sound bite designed to appeal to a broad audience, but Obama's not going to win over coal-state senators or the drill-baby-drill crowd, no matter what. In the pantheon of nice-sounding, oft-repeated phrases that make me cringe, this one's getting right up there with "The government shouldn't pick winners and losers" -- but that's a topic for another blog post. (The government actually picks winners and losers, in dozens of industries, every day). And All of the Above did serve as a useful foil during the 2012 presidential campaign, when someone cleverly referred to Mitt Romney's fossil fuel-focused energy proposals as "All of the Below."

Obama's State of the Union had a very clear message to the climate deniers who are having a field day on Fox News lately in this Winter of the Polar Vortex: "The debate is settled. Climate change is a fact." And I loved his message on innovation, which clearly includes clean tech: "We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow. This is an edge America cannot surrender." That sentiment is clearly in sync with another phrase in the speech: "The shift to a cleaner-energy economy." To me, that's a much more inspiring, future-looking, global-leadership type of energy strategy for our nation. Please Mr. President, let's retire "All of the Above" once and for all.

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