Environment

Obama Uses Major Climate Speech to Cheerlead for Natural Gas Industry; Keystone XL Fate Still Undecided

The most notable parts of his speech were where he touched on “controversial” topics such as the Keystone XL pipeline and natural gas.

Photo Credit: AFP

Editor’s Note: Tara Lohan is traveling across North America documenting communities impacted by energy development for a new AlterNet project,  Hitting Home. Follow her trip on Facebook or on Twitter.

Obama’s much anticipated speech on climate change delivered today at Georgetown University in Washington DC was full of highs and lows. Since his election many hoped he’d be a leader on environmental concerns, but the last five years have mostly been disappointing — gains in renewables and fuel efficiency are worth noting, but his allegiance to an “all of the above” energy strategy is foolhardy at best. 

His new plan included three main goals. The first is to cut carbon pollution by directing the EPA “to work closely with states, industry and other stakeholders to establish carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants.” This is a noble and necessary goal but will be politically challenging to say the least, even though Obama did his best to shame the GOP and its industry friends. 

The second is to help communities prepare for the inevitable impacts of climate  change — and the extreme weather we’re already seeing. And the third is to be an international leader. His plan calls for America to “help forge a truly global solution to this global challenge by galvanizing international action to significantly reduce emissions, prepare for climate impacts, and drive progress through the international negotiations.” Does this mean that perhaps we’ll stop obstructing international climate talks?

The most notable parts of his speech were where he touched on “controversial” topics such as the Keystone XL pipeline and natural gas. He reaffirmed his commitment to wanting to go with burning “cleaner natural gas instead of dirtier fuel sources.” We can only assume the dirty stuff here is coal, but he tactfully avoided saying so directly. Of course he failed to talk about the dirty and dangerous process of extracting gas via fracking — the technology responsible for our current gas boom that Obama proudly mentioned numerous times.

He touted the jobs that this industry would create, “jobs that can’t be shipped overseas,” but he failed to mention that the product being produced can and will be shipped overseas — energy independence be damned.

It’s hard to imagine that Obama has ever visited with communities who are in the crosshairs of natural gas extraction — a process that has proven already to be anything but clean and safe. And yet Obama promised to “strengthen our position as a top natural gas producer” and even to use our private sector to help other countries “transition to natural gas.” This translates to exporting fracking worldwide — a process already underway in Poland, South Africa, Australia and other countries. The hypocrisy of Obama’s allegiance to the gas industry and his pledge to fight climate change was called out by actor/director Mark Ruffalo, a spokesperson for Americans Against Fracking, who said, “President Obama can't claim to seriously address climate change and expand fracking for oil and gas—that's a stark contradiction.”

There is no question where Obama stands on the issue of fracking, and it should be serious cause for concern. With the Keystone XL pipeline, it’s harder to read the tea leaves. The President said:

Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.

This sounds good, but the tricky part is that the draft environmental impact statement issued by the State Department (although authored by industry) came up with some twisted logic as to why the pipeline wouldn’t in fact increase greenhouse gas emissions. So, if Obama goes with the industry line, then the pipeline approval will be a go. If however, he goes with the scientific evidence and the findings of his EPA, then the plan should be shot down. 

But that then creates another problem — he already OK’d half of the pipeline, from Cushing, Oklahoma to Houston, Texas. And that pipeline is nearly built — done so by taking land via eminent domain from Texas and Oklahoma landowners, who (like Julia Trigg Crawford and Michael Bishop) are still fighting like hell to halt construction on their properties. So, if he finds the northern half is an environmental threat — what about the southern half?

Obama’s speech will likely be met with cheers and jeers, even in the environmental community. But it seems safe to say that a year of increasing protest against the Keystone XL is paying off — and after multiple actions planned during this FearlessSummer Obama may be feeling even more heat.

 

Tara Lohan is a freelance writer and former senior editor at AlterNet. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis, including Water Matters: Why We Need to Act Now to Save Our Most Critical Resource. Follow her on Twitter @TaraLohan or visit her website, taralohan.com.