SOTU on Energy and Climate: Disingenuous and Dumb

by Marlo Lewis on January 21, 2015

in Blog

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The State of the Union speech? Yeesh. The energy and climate stuff was disingenuous and dumb.

“The State of the Union is strong,” President Obama proclaimed. How so? Among other things, “we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.” Domestic production is “booming” and today “America is number one in oil and gas.” Obama implied his policies had something to do with those achievements. Ridiculous.

The fracking revolution took place almost entirely on state and private lands, over which federal agencies exercise scant control.

Shale Plays in Lower 48 (shows federal lands)







Tax a thing, and you get less of it. Rather than encourage oil and gas production, each year Obama sent Congress a budget proposal calling for tax hikes on the oil and gas sector. The President’s FY 2015 budget, for example, proposed to increase oil industry taxes by $44.838 billion. It also advocated repeal of LIFO (last-in, first-out) accounting rules — a policy change that would cost oil companies and other U.S. firms $82.708 billion.

The Obama administration’s signature oil policy was its moratorium and informal “permitorium” on offshore oil production following the April 2010 BP Macondo well explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. API estimated the moratorium depressed oil industry capital and operating expenditures by $18.3 billion during 2010-2012 and would cost the U.S. economy $28 billion in lost investment over the next several years. The official and de-facto moratoria cut Gulf of Mexico production by 77 million barrels in FY 2011 (13%) and 47 million barrels in FY 2012 (9%), according to the Institute for Energy Research.

Then there’s the President’s proposal to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40-45% below 2012 levels by 2025. If there ever was a ‘solution’ in search of a problem, this is it. As Cato Institute scientists Patrick Michaels and Chip Knappenberger point out, methane emissions from the sector fell by more than 10% since 2008, chiefly for economic reasons. Methane is a form of natural gas, so frackers have a financial incentive to plug leaks and capture fugitive emissions. 

Moreover, far from being ‘worse than we thought,’ atmospheric methane concentrations are increasing more slowly than previously predicted. Indeed, the IPCC has lowered its methane concentration prediction three times since 1990. Yet even the lower bound of its most recent (2007) prediction overshoots observations. The chart below is from the leaked second order draft of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5):








Using EPA’s own policy model, Michaels and Knappenberger calculate that the administration’s proposed methane cuts “will avert a whopping 0.002°C of global warming by century’s end.” Even if fracking-related methane emissions endangered public health and welfare (they don’t), Obama’s policy is all cost for no benefit.

Okay, on to the dumb stuff. Obama declared that “no challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” Time for a restatement of the obvious.

Globally, poverty is by far the number one cause of preventable illness and premature death. It has always been the greatest threat to human life and health, and in all likelihood will continue to be for decades to come. Indoor air pollution — a condition common to communities trapped in energy poverty — kills an estimated 3.5 million people a year, mostly women and children.

War poses a greater threat than does climate change — ask anyone living in Iraq and Syria. Tyrants and terrorists pose a greater threat, especially if armed with weapons of mass destruction.

Oh sure, Obama’s DOD routinely proclaims that climate change is a “conflict accelerant” and “threat multiplier.” According to the President, “massive disruptions” stemming from climate change “can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.”

Right, and in 2005, the UN Environment Program predicted there would be 50 million climate refugees by 2010.

As policy analyst Jeff Kueter explains in a meticulous review of the literature, “There is no empirical proof for the causal connections between climate change and conflict,” and “if the declining rate of economic growth [allegedly caused by climate change] is a key variable for triggering instability and conflict, then the greenhouse gas mitigation approach can be critiqued using the same national security arguments.”

Climate economist Richard Tol succinctly stated the common sense of the matter. How I wish some merry prankster had inserted the following into Obama’s teleprompter:

Humans are a tough and adaptable species. People live on the equator and in the Arctic, in the desert and in the rainforest. We survived ice ages with primitive technologies. The idea that climate change poses an existential threat to humankind is laughable.



Frederick Colbourne January 21, 2015 at 7:33 am

Fortunately, Mr Obama will have a Republican-dominated Congress during his last two years and thus there is little risk that his proposals will be enacted.

There is potential for defunding of the EPA insofar as the agency attempts to implement its economy-damaging agenda.

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