White House Walks Line Between Energy Production and Climate Issues

President Obama takes questions from the media in the East Room of the White House on June 29, 2011.
National Journal
Clare Foran
March 4, 2014, 6:31 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama doubled down in sup­port of nat­ur­al gas while at the same time cast­ing him­self as a cli­mate de­fend­er with the re­lease Tues­day of his fisc­al year 2015 budget pro­pos­al.

The budget, which out­lines pres­id­en­tial spend­ing and policy pri­or­it­ies for the com­ing year, touts the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “all of the above” en­ergy strategy, a polit­ic­al pos­ture that has drawn the ire of en­vir­on­ment­al groups by pro­mot­ing fossil-fuel en­ergy de­vel­op­ment along­side re­new­ables.

This line is noth­ing new. In his State of the Uni­on ad­dress, Obama de­fen­ded nat­ur­al gas as a “bridge fuel” and stated: “The all-of-the-above en­ergy strategy I an­nounced a few years ago is work­ing.” The com­ments set off a firestorm of cri­ti­cism from en­vir­on­ment­al act­iv­ists who in­sist the pres­id­ent won’t leave a leg­acy on cli­mate change if he con­tin­ues to pro­mote nat­ur­al gas.

The fisc­al year 2015 budget shows that the pres­id­ent is un­moved.

It calls for in­crease in­vest­ments in sus­tain­able nat­ur­al-gas pro­duc­tion, a clear nod to the pres­id­ent’s be­lief that the fuel is a key in­gredi­ent in the do­mest­ic en­ergy mix. At the same time, however, the budget shows a clear pref­er­ence for clean­er-burn­ing fossil-fuel tech­no­logy. It sets aside $476 mil­lion at the En­ergy De­part­ment to lower the costs of car­bon cap­ture and stor­age tech­no­logy for use in coal and nat­ur­al-gas-fired power plants.

The budget also provides a strong show of sup­port for clean en­ergy, al­loc­at­ing $2.3 bil­lion for DOE’s Of­fice of En­ergy Ef­fi­ciency and Re­new­able En­ergy to “build on the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s suc­cess in re­du­cing U.S. de­pend­ence on fossil fuels.” 

The budget al­loc­ates $27.9 bil­lion over­all for DOE, a nearly 2 per­cent drop off from the $28.4 bil­lion re­ques­ted last year. EPA would get $7.9 bil­lion un­der the pro­pos­al, ap­prox­im­ately $300 mil­lion less than last year’s pres­id­en­tial fund­ing re­quest, while the In­teri­or De­part­ment would re­ceive $12 bil­lion, an in­crease of $300 mil­lion over last year’s re­quest. 

The pro­pos­al also high­lights the pres­id­ent’s cli­mate ac­tion plan, show­ing that when it comes to en­ergy and en­vir­on­ment policy, Obama be­lieves he can have his cake and eat it too.

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It calls for fund­ing to pro­mote cli­mate-change ad­apt­a­tion and mit­ig­a­tion in a nod to the pres­id­ent’s pro­pos­al for a cli­mate re­si­li­ence fund, a $1 bil­lion pot of money that could be tapped to help com­munit­ies across the U.S. pre­pare for and re­cov­er from ex­treme weath­er linked to cli­mate change. The pro­pos­al also sets out con­ser­va­tion as an ad­min­is­tra­tion pri­or­ity, with a pro­vi­sion to set aside $900 mil­lion an­nu­ally in man­dat­ory fund­ing for Land and Wa­ter Con­ser­va­tion Fund pro­grams each year. LW­CF pro­grams di­vert money from oil and gas rev­en­ues to con­ser­va­tion ini­ti­at­ives. 

En­vir­on­ment­al­ists won’t be happy to see Obama con­tin­ue to bol­ster nat­ur­al-gas de­vel­op­ment. But in­terest groups look­ing to de­pict the pres­id­ent as in the pock­et of the oil and gas in­dustry will have a hard time of it. The budget clearly out­lines the pres­id­ent’s com­mit­ment to clean en­ergy de­vel­op­ment and cli­mate ac­tion. It also calls on Con­gress to end bil­lions of dol­lars in tax breaks for the the biggest en­ergy com­pan­ies, while at the same time ex­pand­ing and mak­ing per­man­ent the re­new­able-en­ergy pro­duc­tion tax cred­it.

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