Drill more for clean energy? It might sound counterintuitive, but that's exactly the notion President Barack Obama floated by the nation during his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
Calling on America to take the reins in the global effort to advance clean energy technology, the president said his administration would "keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits" to development in the industry, the increased revenue from which would be funneled into a fund to finance research into clean energy technologies.
"The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that," Obama said. "I propose we used some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good."
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the ranking Republican member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, unveiled a similar proposal in her Energy 20/20 blueprint released February 4. Murkowski's plan calls for an "Advanced Energy Trust Fund," which would finance cleaner, climate-friendly energy technologies.
Focusing on clean energy technologies would not only help wean the country from its dependence on oil from unfriendly nations, it would ease the pressure on household budgets and American businesses caused by high energy prices, Obama said.
"Let's ... free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we've put up with for far too long," Obama said, also challenging the nation to double energy efficiency in homes and businesses by 2030.
But some critics complained the president sidestepped a big elephant in the room last night: the approval of the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, which has been languishing for years. While he hailed the president's commitment to ramp up investment in domestic oil and gas resources, American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard argued that approving the Keystone XL pipeline was crucial to following through on those promises.
"President Obama must follow through by implementing a national energy policy, lifting existing restrictions in support of responsible development of our vast energy resources, approving the Keystone XL pipeline, and standing up against unnecessary and burdensome regulations that chill economic growth," Gerard said.
Others worried that skimming revenue from the oil and gas industries could have a negative impact on an industry that has been a primary job creator in the recent economic doldrums.
"We will have to take a closer look at the president's proposals related to taxes and use of revenue from natural gas production to ensure that they don't have a negative impact on our ability to provide affordable energy and create jobs," Regina Hopper, president and CEO of America's Natural Gas Alliance, said in a statement.
Apart from the focus on the nation's new fossil fuel boom, the president also stressed the importance of renewable energy, challenging the United States to keep up with countries such as China, and linking greater adoption of renewable energy to combatting climate change. Faced with the reality that Congress won't likely pass comprehensive climate legislation, Obama pledged to flex the executive branch's muscle to make good on promises made in his recent inaugural speech.
"If Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will," Obama said. "I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy."