Obama On Oil And Clean Energy

While I’m based in Australia, I like to keep tabs on the U.S. political scene a little as most of GLT’s readers are in the USA and as the old saying goes – “The U.S. sneezes and the whole world catches cold”. 

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech captured my interest, just to see what he would say about environmental issues.

I settled in for what I thought would be a relatively boring speech and nearly choked on my coffee when he said he intended on pulling subsidies from oil companies. I had to go and check the transcript to ensure I wasn’t hearing things.

I get particularly cranky about oil and coal subsidies given how long those industries have been around for and the damage they wreak. The generous subsidies also give them an unfair advantage over renewable energy technologies such as solar power. Sure, solar is getting some cash these days, but it’s still a drop in the bucket compared to fossil fuels. These tax breaks and perks oil and coal have enjoyed for decades have to paid for somehow if they aren’t appearing on the sticker price at the pump – there is no such thing as cheap oil.

I’d pretty much resigned myself to the fact cessation of fossil fuel subsidies was unlikely to happen here; and I was eleventy gazillion percent certain it would never, ever, ever, ever happen in the USA. 

President Obama said of stopping subsidies for oil companies, “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.”


But will it happen? What are the chances of it occurring given the current political landscape and the amount of money at stake? Prepare for a bloody political battle of proportions likely unseen before.

Another goal he mentioned was to have 80% of the USA’s power needs met by clean energy by 2035. This isn’t pie in the sky stuff, it is doable. I wish he used the term “renewable energy” though.

The term “clean energy” bothers me a bit as that could include all sorts of sources, including nuclear and “clean coal“; the latter being a very dodgy proposition at best – clean coal is an oxymoron.

His vision of biofuels is also a little unsettling if it includes increasingly using food crops as fuel or growing non-food crops on land that puts food on our tables. Even if neither of those two scenarios eventuate, there’s also the issue of all the new land needed to grow the biofuel stock. Even wastelands are habitats.

I’m by no means criticizing Obama, it’s too early to make any sort of call; it’s just that the devil is in the detail. Having said that, I greatly admire his comments about the oil industry – it was a brave move because it could cost him a lot.
Anyhow, interesting times ahead for the USA .. and as such, for the rest of the world. I’m hoping Obama’s comments about oil companies will blast the doors wide open on the prospect of phasing out fossil fuel subsidies across the pond as well.