President Barack Obama is sure to mention climate change and clean energy in Tuesday night's State of the Union. If his past three SOTU speeches are any indication, he'll specifically cite the domestic oil and gas boom and credit natural gas as a clean fuel that cuts American pollution.
He should retire this pitch before America spots its glaring contradiction.
Last week, the administration announced a plan—a mix of regulations and voluntary actions—for lowering methane from oil and gas by 40-45 percent by 2025. The regulations are a tacit admission that rising natural gas production isn't all good news, despite what Obama has said in the past. In 2013, Obama said “the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence.” He envisioned that natural gas can “burn even cleaner” with technology and research (without mentioning the need for regulations). By 2014, he called it the “bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.”
But natural gas doesn't burn as cleanly as the president has promised. Natural gas is composed of methane, which is 86 times more potent in global warming than carbon pollution. Without action, methane emissions from the oil and gas sector are expected to rise by 25 percent in 10 years, which is why the administration is proposing new, albeit weak regulations. It's worth watching how Obama treats natural gas in tonight's speech, if only to see whether he is still unwilling to mention the industry's environmental problems. He's not likely to note the discrepency between an all-the-above energy plan and his support for climate change action.
The oil and gas industry, which thinks it can fix methane leaks on its own, has noted that the president's policies contradict his language, too. "If history is any guide, President Obama's State of the Union address will likely include a mix of rhetoric claiming credit for energy achievements with a list of policy proposals that in many instances we believe will actually undermine them," American Petroleum Institute chief Jack Gerard said last week.
Some might level the inverse of that criticism: Obama essentially undermines his own climate initiatives by crediting fossil fuels as clean energy sources.