During the State of the Union address, President Barack Obama challenged the nation to invest in clean-energy technologies so the U.S. would “out-compete” and “out-innovate” the rest of the world.
Indisputably, this country needs less polluting and more efficient energy sources to make the critical transition from fossil fuels to the 21st-century technologies needed to keep the nation economically strong and competitive. The president was wise to highlight it.
Unfortunately, he chose a way that further widens battle lines between so-called clean and dirty technologies in an increasingly unproductive ideological clash that shuts down reasonable compromises and meaningful investment in the steps this nation must take to become more energy diverse and secure.
While the president essentially pledged the government to fund innovative energy research, he did so by demonizing oil companies. This plays to his political base, but it makes no pragmatic sense. Oil companies are a necessary part of the nation’s energy present and, along with new alternative technologies, must form part of the future energy solution. Even if you think it’s a good idea, his mocking promise to end $4 billion a year in subsidies to the oil industry to redirect those funds into alternative energy subsidies doesn’t begin to carve out a middle ground for a comprehensive national energy plan.
And there is just as much antipathy from the environmental community, some of whose members contend that natural gas and “clean coal” aren’t really clean because both are fossil fuels and that nuclear energy isn’t clean because waste disposal remains problematic. By that standard, are electric vehicles ― the president wants 1 million on the streets by 2015 ― really clean, when their generating sources aren’t?
Such myopic debates have caused comprehensive energy legislation to die repeated deaths in Congress. And it doesn’t help the nation’s energy picture when the president sends mixed messages to the oil industry ― first announcing support for offshore drilling last spring, then axing new exploration leases from the Interior Department’s next five-year plan.
Oil and natural gas must be part of a national energy strategy, as well as nuclear energy and cleaner technologies. As a nation, we must recognize that the possible can’t become the casualty of the perfect. If it does, we’ll never create the critical mass and targeted purpose necessary for a truly significant transformation in the way we think about, produce and use energy.
America’s energy habits and economic insecurity will not improve without a national commitment and bold leadership from the White House and Congress. The country should be in a must-win dash to secure its energy future. Unfortunately, we remain stuck in the starting gate.