Coal Tattoo

President Obama: Climate change is not a joke

In a blunt and direct response to Governor Mitt Romney and the entire GOP, President Obama declared last night:

And yes, my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They’re a threat to our children’s future. And in this election, you can do something about it.

And if you missed it, here’s the part of the president’s acceptance speech that came just before that:

You can choose the path where we control more of our own energy. After thirty years of inaction, we raised fuel standards so that by the middle of the next decade, cars and trucks will go twice as far on a gallon of gas.

We’ve doubled our use of renewable energy, and thousands of Americans have jobs today building wind turbines, and long-lasting batteries. In the last year alone, we cut oil imports by one million barrels a day, more than any administration in recent history. And today, the United States of America is less dependent on foreign oil than at any time in the last two decades.

So, now you have a choice – between a strategy that reverses this progress, or one that builds on it. We’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration in the last three years, and we’ll open more. But unlike my opponent, I will not let oil companies write this country’s energy plan, or endanger our coastlines, or collect another $4 billion in corporate welfare from our taxpayers. We’re offering a better path.

We’re offering a better path, a future where we keep investing in wind and solar and clean coal; where farmers and scientists harness new biofuels to power our cars and trucks; where construction workers build homes and factories that waste less energy; where — where we develop a hundred year supply of natural gas that’s right beneath our feet.

If you choose this path, we can cut our oil imports in half by 2020 and support more than 600,000 new jobs in natural gas alone.

As we discussed yesterday on Coal Tattoo, renewables didn’t quite double, but they came close, and at least one fact-checker I saw (the Washington Post) gave the energy portion of President Obama’s speech generally good marks. Time magazine’s Michael Grunwald pointed out on Twitter that this part of the president’s speech actually sold short the huge increase in solar under the current administration.

That “clean coal” line will stick in the craw of many environmental groups, who despite the industry’s fierce PR campaign against President Obama’s coal policies don’t believe the administration has done nearly enough on these issues (they point, example, to EPA’s continued stalling on rules to govern the handling and disposal of toxic coal ash and the president personally blocking new smog regulations — not to mention the fact that pleas for the president to ban mountaintop removal have not been acted upon).

Others would not that it’s no surprise that President Obama mentioned “clean coal.” He was a coal industry supporter when he was a U.S. Senator from Illinois, and he’s talked many times about “clean coal” since he entered the White House.

In hits remarkable new book about the stimulus bill (The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era), Grunwald notes that the administration’s legislation “would also include $3.4 billion for clean coal, more than Bush had managed to spend in eight years of devotion to the extraction industries…” Grunwald explains that technology to capture coal’s greenhouse emissions “could make the U.S. coal industry viable in a carbon-constrained economy, and rewrite the future of coal-dependent nations like China and India.”

Regular readers know that a big chunk of stimulus money was set aside for one of the pet projects of many coal supporters about West Virginia’s political leadership: The expansion of a landmark carbon capture and storage project at American Electric Power’s Mountaineer Plant in New Haven, over in Mason County. But those readers also know that AEP dropped that project, in large part because there’s no federal law or rule that mandates greenhouse gas emissions be controlled.

As we’ve discussed before here, what we have is a situation where coal industry supporters (those who don’t still try to deny climate change is a problem) say that we need CCS so we can keep using coal while reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but those same industry supporters work very hard to ensure that the very policy needed to foster that technology — a federal cap and emissions reductions mandate — is never implemented. It’s maddening and incredibly short-sighted.

So while the most anti-coal folks among the environmental community may spend part of the day grousing around about that “clean coal” mention in the president’s speech last night, shouldn’t they at least take a moment to be glad the president responded to the GOP making a mockery of climate change? And shouldn’t coal industry supporters at some point get on with embracing policies that might help their favorite fuel become less harmful to our society?