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The Climate Post: Obama Calls for "All of the Above" Energy Strategy for America

Posted: 01/27/2012 11:24 am

In President Obama's third State of the Union address, he devoted more time than before to covering energy issues, calling for an all-out, "all-of-the-above" approach to boosting production of every kind of domestic energy, fossil as well as renewable.

Obama also asked the country to imagine "a future where we're in control of our own energy," which seemed to be a call for energy independence, a goal set out by all U.S. presidents going back to Nixon.

He also said he supports opening up more offshore areas for exploration and development of oil and gas. The president of Shell Oil said it seems the federal government has increased its pace of issuing permits for deepwater drilling.

He also expressed support for shale gas, saying the country had natural gas supplies that could last "nearly 100 years." However, a new analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said the country may only have about half as much shale gas as the EIA's 2011 estimate held -- and the most extensively drilled shale area, the Marcellus, was downgraded by about two-thirds. For any drilling on public lands, Obama will require companies to disclose the chemicals they use.

The result was a variety of aims that could conflict, since boosting production of fossil fuels could stymie renewable energy and boost greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change only showed up in the speech once, when Obama blamed partisan division in Congress for delaying climate legislation. He indicated there is no reason Congress shouldn't at least set a "clean energy standard" -- the kind of effort that could sharply cut emissions at low cost, according to an analysis last year by the EIA.

Changes to Taxes and Trade

Another theme in Obama's speech was an "economy built to last," calling for a resurgence of U.S. manufacturing. A key part of this would be clean tech, as Obama said, "I will not walk away from... clean energy." He also touted a wind turbine manufacturer as an example of a U.S. company creating domestic jobs.

To help protect domestic jobs, he announced the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit that will investigate "unfair trade practices in countries like China," apparently a reference to recent scuffles over China's support for solar panel manufacturers.

Obama also argued companies should not get tax breaks for moving jobs overseas. There has been some criticism of green stimulus money supporting jobs overseas and now Evergreen Solar, the United States' third-biggest solar panel manufacturer, announced plans to shut down its main U.S. factory and open another in China.

Obama also called for an end to tax breaks for the petroleum industry. "We have subsidized oil companies for a century," he said. "That's long enough." Obama has urged such a move several times before, as has Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency, who said cutting fossil fuel subsidies would get the world halfway to reaching ambitious goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

However, fuel price hikes have sparked protests -- as when Italy raised taxes and Nigeria lowered subsidies.

Oil Market Ratchets Up

Meanwhile, the European Union adopted a ban on importing Iranian oil, to be phased in by July 1, to try to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

In retaliation, Iran is considering immediately ceasing oil sales to Europe, and again threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, the world's most important oil chokepoint, leading the International Monetary Fund to warn rising tensions could cause oil prices to spike, joining a chorus of earlier warnings.

In case of a shut-down, Saudi Arabia's leaders said oil could continue flowing through alternate routes, and make up for much of the loss of Iranian oil -- also admitting a preference for oil prices to remain around $100 a barrel.

In case of such oil or gas price spikes, six Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Gas Price Spike Act to apply a windfall tax that would capture most of the revenue that goes beyond "a reasonable profit." The money raised would help fund fuel-efficient cars and mass transit systems.

Regardless of acute geopolitical turmoil, high oil prices are here to stay, since oil's "tipping point has passed" and the "supply of cheap oil has plateaued," argued an article in Nature.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.