Obama’s new climate plan: Less coal, more fracking

On June 25, President Obama gave a “major” climate speech, and John posted the video and full text here.

John focused on one element of that speech, the part about the Keystone pipeline:

“I do want to be clear. Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so will 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.”

The speech was promoted by, among others, Huffington Post, as saying that the President would promise that Keystone must be carbon neutral:

President Barack Obama will ask the State Department not to approve the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline unless it can first determine that it will not lead to a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions, a senior administration official told The Huffington Post.

No “net increase” is not what Obama said. He said “does not significantly exacerbate,” which is a much lower standard for letting the Keystone Pipeline proceed. Did the “senior administration official” misrepresent the position, or did s/he just not know? You decide; I have my own guess.

There’s speculation on whether we are being prepped for a Yes to Keystone, and I’m seeing commentary both ways. (By the way, “I want to be clear” is starting to be identified as an Obama “tell” for a promise he doesn’t intend to keep. Word on the street.)

Me? I think we’re being set up for a Yes, but I’ve thought that since the subject came up. If the baby keeps grabbing for the candy, you have to conclude s/he wants it. Same with this.

What about the rest of the speech? Looks like less coal, more fracking

There’s much to like in Obama’s energy plan (pdf), but one piece stuck out very much — if you listened to the speech, you have to know the fracking industry must be delighted. If “natural gas” = “fracking” (and it does), the poison-your-ground-water-for-profit industry will see a big boost in income. Will there be a finder’s fee?

Here are relevant sections from the first part of Obama’s speech. Remember, “fracking” is one of our replacement phrases. Every time you see “natural gas” say “fracking,” as described here. Obama (my emphasis and [bracketed comments]:

… It was important for me to speak directly to your generation, because the decisions that we make now and in the years ahead will have a profound impact on the world that all of you inherit. …

[A]round the same time we began exploring space, scientists were studying changes taking place in the Earth’s atmosphere. Now, scientists had known since the 1800s that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide trap heat, and that burning fossil fuels release those gases into the air. That wasn’t news. But in the late 1950s, the National Weather Service began measuring the levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, with the worry that rising levels might someday disrupt the fragile balance that makes our planet so hospitable. And what they’ve found, year after year, is that the levels of carbon pollution in our atmosphere have increased dramatically. …

The 12 warmest years in recorded history have all come in the last 15 years. Last year, temperatures in some areas of the ocean reached record highs, and ice in the Arctic shrank to its smallest size on record — faster than most models had predicted it would. These are facts. …

And we know that the costs of these events can be measured in lost lives and lost livelihoods, lost homes, lost businesses, hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency services and disaster relief. In fact, those who are already feeling the effects of climate change don’t have time to deny it — they’re busy dealing with it. Firefighters are braving longer wildfire seasons, and states and federal governments have to figure out how to budget for that. I had to sit on a meeting with the Department of Interior and Agriculture and some of the rest of my team just to figure out how we’re going to pay for more and more expensive fire seasons. …

[T]he question is not whether we need to act. The overwhelming judgment of science — of chemistry and physics and millions of measurements — has put all that to rest. Ninety-seven percent of scientists, including, by the way, some who originally disputed the data, have now put that to rest. They’ve acknowledged the planet is warming and human activity is contributing to it.

So the question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late. And how we answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind not just to you, but to your children and to your grandchildren.

As a President, as a father, and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act. (Applause.)

I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing. And that’s why, today, I’m announcing a new national climate action plan, and I’m here to enlist your generation’s help in keeping the United States of America a leader — a global leader — in the fight against climate change. …


Setting tap water on fire in a region of
heavy fracking

Here at Georgetown, I unveiled my strategy for a secure energy future. And thanks to the ingenuity of our businesses, we’re starting to produce much more of our own energy. We’re building the first nuclear power plants in more than three decades — in Georgia and South Carolina. For the first time in 18 years, America is poised to produce more of our own oil than we buy from other nations. And today, we produce more natural gas [aka fracking] than anybody else. So we’re producing energy. …

In my State of the Union address, I urged Congress to come up with a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one that Republican and Democratic senators worked on together a few years ago. And I still want to see that happen. I’m willing to work with anyone to make that happen. …

[My] plan begins with cutting carbon pollution by changing the way we use energy — using less dirty energy, using more clean energy [aka fracking], wasting less energy throughout our economy. …

So today, for the sake of our children, and the health and safety of all Americans, I’m directing the Environmental Protection Agency to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants, and complete new pollution standards for both new and existing power plants. (Applause.)

I’m also directing the EPA to develop these standards in an open and transparent way, to provide flexibility to different states with different needs, and build on the leadership that many states, and cities, and companies have already shown. In fact, many power companies have already begun modernizing their plants, and creating new jobs in the process. Others have shifted to burning cleaner natural gas [aka fracking] instead of dirtier fuel sources [coal].

So, some preliminary comments. More will follow — we’re all digesting this as I write.

First, Obama gets it about climate change. He knows that carbonated air holds heat. He knows we’re the prime source of the carbon. He knows we’re “disrupting the fragile balance” that make human civilization possible.

Remember, the climate has been “in equilibrium” — with a plus-or-minus change from the norm of the last 10,000 years of about 0.5°C. That’s the period of human civilization, called the Holocene in geologic time. We’re now outside that range by about twice (a full +1°C, with 1.5°C or more in the pipeline, inevitable.) And we’re headed even further north, as it were, with each day we don’t Stop Now (click to see why that formulation matters).

Second, Obama knows that the science is settled. That “97%” figure comes from a peer-reviewed scientific paper that has studied the literature statistically. Obama or his people obviously have knowledge of that paper.

Third, Obama would prefer a “bipartisan market-based solution” (which ain’t gonna work, by the way), but he knows he must act unilaterally. So he’s using the Clean Air Act (discussed in the part of the speech that I cut out) to regulate carbon emissions, and it’s a serious attempt, as we’ll discuss later. All good so far.

Now the bad part. As the speech shows, he’s leaning hard against coal, trying to eliminate it (good), but he’s substituting, among other things, natural gas (fracking). Last I heard, there was carbon in natural gas as well. So what’s his formula for overall reduction? I haven’t analyzed it yet relative to what’s needed, but I’ll bet he’s not reducing fast enough.

And get ready for tons of more fracking wells, you with property. In most parts of the country, if there’s gas under your property, you don’t have the mineral rights. The government does, and it auctions and sells them. (Check the middle of this post, and the video at the end, for the details; they’re stunning.)

Which leads to four conclusions:

1. You can set fire to tap water in areas of heavy fracking. Get ready for fracking on steriods.

2. Obama is making all fracking-industry companies very happy. I’m sure they’ll find a way to show their appreciation. After he leaves office.

3. The most painful one of all: Because we know that Obama knows the climate truth, he may also know he’s compromising his way out of a real solution. Carbon is carbon, and slow change is slow change. We need to be off of carbon, not slowly but Now. If he does get that he’s doing “what’s possible” — which always means what’s convenient — shame on him. Which leads to number 4.

4. If Obama approves the Keystone Pipeline, he’s Climate Criminal #1 — the first face of the Climate Crisis. More on that if he doesn’t step away from the pipe. And if he denies Keystone, he’s on his way to being the hero he clearly wants to be.

If you want to see Obama’s actual plan, click here and here (both pdf) and read away. I’ll be doing the same in the next few days. There are a lot of good things here, especially the emphasis on renewables. I’m just not sure it will be enough, or even close. And then there’s the fracking.

Bottom line

The bottom line is (a) there’s good news and bad news; (b) the bad news is deadly; (c) it’s possible Obama will do the right thing on Keystone, but in my opinion, not likely. The good in his plan will likely outshine the bad in most eyes, which is fine. But for those of us in the real world, not enough is not enough, and the stakes are really high for being wrong to the slow side.

Stay tuned. Keystone approval will tell the tale. He may try to nuance an approval, but approval is approval. Just say No, Mr. Obama. It’s legacy time.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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