The Environment and Obama

The Environment and Obama

Michele Berger
Published: 01/25/2012

 The 2012 State of the Union address. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama spent almost seven minutes of his hour-plus State of the Union last night—about 9% of the speech—discussing energy and the environment, more specifically oil and natural gas and clean energy.

“Over the last three years,” he said, “we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I’m directing my administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources.” Pause for applause. “Right now—right now,” he continued, “American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years. That’s right, eight years. Not only that, last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past 16 years.” Pause for more applause.

National Public Radio fact-checked that statement on air this morning. “Given how much the President has been criticized for being resistant to drilling in the United States, could that be true?” asked Steve Inskeep, host of “Morning Edition.”

“Yes, in fact is it true,” said NPR reporter Elizabeth Shogren.

In 2006, when there was another State of the Union address, President Bush then said we were addicted to foreign oil. At that point, 60% of our oil was coming from foreign sources. Now it’s just less than half. The Energy Information agency says that in fact, the trend is going to continue in that positive direction and within a couple decades, it’s going to be even less, say something like 36%.

It’s also true that domestic production of oil is on the rise. And this is a major breakthrough, something we haven’t seen for a long time. In fact, the oil companies say that there are more rigs drilling for oil in the U.S. than there have been for 25 years.

Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler—who pens “The Fact Checker” blog—put it into a different context, calling the highest-in-eight-years stat about oil a great one, but not especially noteworthy. “There has not been much change in the annual barrels produced in the United States since 2003,” he writes. “It essentially has been steady though it is slightly higher now than in previous years, according to the Energy Information Administration. Production is projected to increase in coming years.”

Turning back to the speech, Obama went on to say that oil isn’t enough, that we must formulate and follow a strategy that incorporates many different types of resources—a move the President said could generate hundreds of thousands of jobs by decade’s end. That led him directly into speaking about clean energy. “What’s true for natural gas is just as true for clean energy… Because of federal investments, renewable energy use has nearly doubled, and thousands of Americans have jobs because of it.”

He acknowledged the difficulty in passing comprehensive climate change legislation given the current standoff in Congress. But he also took a stand. “So far, you haven’t acted. Well, tonight, I will. I’m directing my administration to allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power 3 million homes. And I’m proud to announce that the Department of Defense, working with us, the world’s largest consumer of energy, will make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history, with the Navy purchasing enough capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year.”

Whether last night’s State of the Union was the final one of the President’s first term or his final ever, incorporating in oil and energy keep the topics as part of the discussion—at least for the moment.