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"All of the Above" is Not Good Energy Policy

J. Mijin Cha

After a campaign season marked by climate silence, the President’s inaugural call for action on climate change left hope that the administration was serious about making climate a priority. And, there were parts in last night’s State of the Union that were promising, beyond the simple fact that he addressed the issue at length. First and foremost, the President tied extreme weather events to climate change. It was a strong rebuttal to climate deniers that question both the existence of climate change and its impact on extreme weather.

The President also mentioned increasing wind installations and making solar even more affordable. The idea of using oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust for developing research and technology is also a very good idea. Dedicated funding sources provide stability and predictability for emerging technologies. Increasing energy efficiency in buildings and homes is also a good idea and the President pledged federal support to the states with the best ideas for creating jobs and lowering energy bills.

But ultimately, all of these steps are meaningless if, as the President stated, the Administration wants to double down on natural gas extraction. The President clearly stated that he wants to encourage natural gas development and that the administration, “will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.” He went on to state that we should develop technology that helps natural gas burn evener cleaner. The problem is not with burning natural gas. Already, natural gas burns cleaner than coal or oil. However, the process by which natural gas is now being extracted, fracking, is not only environmentally destructive; it also releases a substantial amount of methane, which is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

A recent EPA report shows that the oil and gas industry was the largest emitter of methane, releasing the equivalent to 82.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. This is in addition the problems already associated with fracking: drinking water contamination, increased risk of earthquakes, and mysterious health problems in fracking communities. Plus, natural gas is still a finite resource. Whether it takes 10 years or 100 years, the supply will run out. The only questions are when and how much damage will be inflicted in the meantime?

If the President is serious about climate change, he needs to stop with the “All of the Above” energy plans and meaningfully invest in developing and expanding renewable energy. He should also fight for a carbon tax, over cap and trade, and continue his previous commitment to end subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.

When it comes to climate, there is no middle ground. Either we transition to a clean energy fueled economy now or we accept the consequences of more extreme weather events. It really is that straight forward.