Obama blasts climate deniers, pipeline pushers in forceful speech 

Source: Robin Bravender, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, January 21, 2015

President Obama has declared a climate and energy war against the new GOP-led Congress.The president derided climate change deniers, lashed out at those fixated on the Keystone XL oil pipeline and pledged to fight efforts to roll back his environmental policies in his first State of the Union address before two Republican-held chambers. His aggressive tone on energy sets the stage for two years of bitter battles with the GOP on a range of issues.

But even though he’s facing more opposition in Congress than ever before, Obama sketched out his most liberal agenda to date and appeared confident and at times almost defiant during his hourlong speech.

Even as Obama urged lawmakers to move beyond partisan fights, he made it clear that he’s got no plans to back down on his top agenda items. “I’ve got no more campaigns to run,” he said, adding, as Republicans began to cheer, “I know because I won both of them. My only agenda for the next two years is the same as the one I’ve had since the day I swore an oath on the steps of this Capitol — to do what I believe is best for America.”

On climate change, Obama’s remarks were the most forceful he’s made in his seven years of annual speeches before Congress.

“No challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change,” Obama said, citing reports that 2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.

And he derided a popular talking point used by some GOP politicians: that they’re not qualified to weigh in on climate change because they’re not scientists.

“I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists, that we don’t have enough information to act,” Obama said. “Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what, I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities.

“The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.”

He touted his administration’s regulatory efforts to combat climate change and signaled that he’s planning to stick to his guns, despite the newly empowered GOP’s promising to fight his administration’s raft of executive actions.

“[O]ver the past six years, we’ve done more than ever before to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy to the way we use it,” Obama said. “That’s why we’ve set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history. And that’s why I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts.”

And Obama pledged continued efforts to drive international action, boasting of the deal reached last year between the United States and China to cut greenhouse gas emissions. “And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that this year the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got,” he said.

The tone was a marked departure from some of his previous State of the Union speeches. In 2011, for instance — the year before Obama’s re-election campaign — the word “climate” didn’t even make it into the address.

Keystone XL criticism

Obama also used the speech to take aim at the lawmakers looking to force his hand on the hot-button Keystone XL oil pipeline.

“Twenty-first-century businesses need 21st-century infrastructure — modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest Internet. Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this,” he said. “So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline. Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year and make this country stronger for decades to come.”

Congressional Republicans have made legislation to approve the controversial oil pipeline from Canada one of their top priorities this year, despite a looming White House veto threat.

Obama has yet to say whether he would kill the pipeline project outright after a full State Department review, but it’s clear he isn’t very enamored of it — even though all Republicans and many Democrats in Congress are.

Obama’s comments drew immediate criticism from KXL’s backers, but praise from greens opposed to the project.

In response to Obama’s call to move beyond the “single oil pipeline,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) joked, “I was hopeful he wanted to build more than one pipeline.”

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said, “I felt like the president was taking a jab at anyone who supports the Keystone pipeline. I thought it was inappropriate, actually.”

He added, “I think it signals to the American people that the president’s speech about working together has some significant loopholes.”

Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, said, “We couldn’t agree more with President Obama that we must set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline. On the heels of the hottest year on record, it’s time for Republican leaders in Congress to finally stand with the majority of Americans who support the president’s climate agenda.”

On infrastructure more broadly, Obama called for passage of a bipartisan plan but offered no specifics, apart from suggesting that it could be financed by closing tax loopholes on U.S. businesses’ overseas earnings to “make it more attractive for companies to bring jobs home.”

‘All of the above’ omitted

In contrast to previous speeches, Obama notably left out a reference to an “all of the above” energy policy. He’s used the phrase in the past to show support for a range of fossil and renewable energy sources, but it’s riled greens, who have urged the administration to prioritize renewables.

He bragged last night about domestic “booming energy production,” stating, “we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.” Obama made specific references to oil and gas, wind power and solar, but didn’t mention coal or nuclear power.

“[T]oday, America is No. 1 in oil and gas. America is No. 1 in wind power. Every three weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008. And thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save $750 at the pump,” Obama said.

His failure to utter the words “all of the above” did not go unnoticed.

Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) suggested that Obama appeared to be favoring certain sectors of the energy industry over others.

“We shouldn’t be picking winners and losers,” he said.

And Obama’s comments didn’t suffice for some in the energy industry.

“America’s energy renaissance has profoundly strengthened our economy and is helping the president fulfill many of his policy goals. But his speech did not even begin to tell the whole story,” said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute. “America is now a global energy superpower thanks to our oil and natural gas renaissance, but most of this development has occurred in spite of the federal government.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said he would keep an open mind but faulted the president for failing to boost energy efficiency in his discussion of energy and infrastructure policy. Portman is one of the leading efficiency champions in Congress and succeeded yesterday in attaching a modest efficiency amendment to the KXL bill making its way through the Senate (E&ENews PM, Jan. 20).

“He was pretty strident in the first half of the speech, yet in the second half said he’d like to hear our ideas,” Portman said. “So hopefully, we can have a debate on some of this. Energy efficiency is just one example where Republicans and Democrats alike want to try to make progress on jobs, on energy security and on less emissions and less pollution.”

Other lawmakers said infrastructure generally could be another area of common ground between the two parties.

“Everyone knows we have a problem with our crumbling infrastructure in this country,” said Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.). “We know that if we propose to fix it, we put it back to work.”