Market News

 January 25, 2012
Obama sets out 'all-of-the-above' clean energy policy

 President Obama used his State of the Union address last night to again call on Congress to deliver a more effective energy policy that ends subsidies to the oil industry, bolsters US energy security, and steps up support for clean energy.

Establishing energy reforms as one of the central themes of his address, Obama began the speech by arguing the US should seek "a future where we're in control of our own energy, and our security and prosperity aren't so tied to unstable parts of the world".

He set out the case for government intervention in the energy market, arguing that federal support for emerging clean energy technologies is helping to create jobs and enhance energy securities.

"Some technologies don't pan out; some companies fail," he said, in a thinly veiled reference to solar company Solyndra, which collapsed after receiving government support. "But I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy ... I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here."

He urged Congress to free up funds to support clean energy by ending all subsidies to the oil industry.

"We've subsidised oil companies for a century -- that's long enough," Obama said to applause from Congress. "It's time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that rarely has been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that never has been more promising. Pass clean energy tax credits. Create these jobs."

In what will be seen as a modest victory for green campaigners, Obama did refer to climate change in the speech, urging Congress to set aside its differences on the topic to approve the clean energy standard for which the administration has been pushing.

"The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change," he said. "But there's no reason why Congress shouldn't at least set a clean energy standard that creates a market for innovation."

He added that the administration will act by allowing the development of clean energy on enough public land to power three million homes. This comes after Congress failed to agree on a target that would require energy firms to source 80 per cent of their energy from clean sources, including natural gas, by 2035.

He also confirmed that the Department of Defense is now "the world's largest consumer of energy", with the Navy also committing to purchasing enough clean energy capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year.

In addition, he urged Congress to approve incentives for businesses that upgrade buildings to save energy, arguing that such a move would mean "their energy bills will be $100bn lower over the next decade, and America will have less pollution, more manufacturing, more jobs for construction workers who need them".

However, while green groups are likely to celebrate the commitment to clean energy, Obama can expect criticism for his continued support for fossil fuels in general, and controversial shale gas developments in particular.

The president said that the US needs an "all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy".

He made no reference to his decision to block the controversial Keystone pipeline that would have increased US access to dirty oil from Canadian tar sands. However, he praised the administration's decision to open up millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and announced that it will open up more than 75 per cent of potential offshore oil and gas resources for development.

He also declared that the US has "a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years", pledging that "my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy".

In addition, he praised the fact that it was public research dollars that helped develop the technologies to extract natural gas out of shale rock.

"The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don't have to choose between our environment and our economy," he said.

The clear support for domestic oil drilling and shale gas will be condemned by green businesses who have long argued that natural gas cannot be regarded as long-term fix if the world is to avoid dangerous levels of climate change, even though it may provide a relatively clean source of energy while the economy transitions towards renewables.

Obama did offer some succour to his green base, however, with a declaration that he will not compromise on essential environmental protections, though he remains committed to rolling back unnecessary regulations.

"I will not back down from making sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf two years ago," he said. "I will not back down from protecting our kids from mercury poisoning, or making sure that our food is safe and our water is clean."

And in a move that will delight US domestic renewable energy manufacturers, Obama engaged in some sabre-rattling over China's trade practices.

"I will not stand by when our competitors don't play by the rules," he said, just days after the US launched an investigation into China's support for wind turbine tower manufacturers. "We've brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the rate as the last administration -- and it's made a difference."

He also announced the creation of a new Trade Enforcement Unit that is to investigate "unfair trading practices in countries like China"